Have you ever installed a covert shortwave radio antenna?

The Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140 (Photo by Rich Post, KB8TAD)

The Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140 (Photo by Rich Post, KB8TAD)

Yesterday, in a comment thread, SWLing Post reader Dan described a covert antenna he once installed in a student apartment:

I’m waxing nostalgic now, but I had a great set-up for a couple of years back in the ’70s. The receiver was a black WW2 Navy surplus Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140. (I still have it).

I was a student living in an apartment on top of a two story, wood-framed apartment building. The attic access for that building was from the ceiling of the wardrobe closet.

During a Christmas break I was probably the only occupant of the building. I snuck into the attic and installed a set of five switchable dipoles. I had a good 60′ of space to work with and the antennas were broadside to the southwest. This was quite a memorable listening post.

When I moved out, I cut the coax to the dipoles and used toothpaste and borrowed pieces of “cottage cheese” to fill the five holes in the ceiling. Those antennas are probably still there.

Indeed, I bet they are still there, Dan!

In reply to Dan’s comment, Walt Salmaniw, noted:

Dan, reminds me when I was stationed in Germany in the early 80’s.

We lived in old French officer’s quarters. Basically, 4 story buildings with the upper floor/attic uninhabited.

The Kenwood R-2000 (Photo: Universal Radio)

The Kenwood R-2000 (Photo: Universal Radio)

I put up some nice 60 m dipoles in that space, with a goal of hearing a lot of tropical band DX, which I did using my Kenwood R2000 receiver.

Those were the glory days of dxing!

Thanks, Dan and Walter, for sharing those stories. The thread reminds me of a post we published sometime back where one young listener installed a wire antenna in his home while his parents were away. (I can’t seem to locate that post at the moment for a link!).

Though not nearly as elaborate as Dan and Walter’s antennas, I did install a small covert antenna once myself.

In the early 90s, I lived in Grenoble, France, in a four bedroom house in which three bedrooms were occupied by university students. The landlord was a rather fussy elderly woman who lived on the ground floor. I never dared ask her if I could string a random wire outside my top floor bedroom window. Though she was mostly fair and even sweet at times, I knew what the response would be if I asked for permission: a firm “Non.”

One night, I opened the bedroom window and carefully connected a short wire antenna to a nail on the side of the house, above and slightly to the side of the window. I had to stand on the window and hang out of the house to do it.

The Realistic DX-440

The Realistic DX-440

The antenna dangled there the whole year I lived in that room and served me quite well. I’d simply open the window and clip it to my Realistic DX-440. I did remove the antenna before before I moved back to the States, but it was virtually undetectable against the  exterior wall of the house.

Other covert antenna installations?

Please comment if you’ve ever installed a hidden antenna as well. (I love this stuff!) Besides…who knows…your antenna might benefit someone in need of a hidden antenna today!

Spread the radio love

34 thoughts on “Have you ever installed a covert shortwave radio antenna?

  1. Bogdan

    Thank you all for these great stories.
    As a kid I lived in Romania (city of Arad) back in the seventies. I remember my grandfather listening to shortwave for hours on end. He did not have an ellaborate antenna, just a grounding wire I think. The stealth part about it? He had to do it at night and quite quietly. It was illegal at the time to listen to foreign (“imperialist”) radio station and one could get in trouble with the Securitate if caught.
    I am getting older myself now and came to the realization that the sound of whistling and woom-wooming shortwave radio is the sound of my childhood. The radio is long gone, and so is Walerko, but I had the wits to keep one of the tubes. It now rests in a drawer, all those mysterious evenings locked in it forever. When I look at it, I still hear it sing.

  2. peter staines

    hope some one out there can help,i recently purchased the Tecsun S2000i,i live in a high rise apartment with a small balcony the radio works really well with the whip antenna but i feel i could get more out of it ,if the aluminium vehranda railings were turned into an Antenna .all up there is 11 meters of aluminium rail there if stretched out in a straight line encased and insulated by concrete .what what would be the best way to tap into this resource .i am 13 meters high with a direct unobstructed view over the pacific .

    1. Alexander, DL4NO

      Hello Peter,

      for reception you should stay away from any metal that is attached to the house: There is a great danger that you catch lots of noise from the house.

      For medium wave or the low shortwave bands, you should read the blog entry from today from the Italian OM. For higher frequencies you should consider similar, “magnetic” antennas – without a ferrite rod, with a loop with perhaps 50 cm diameter. You find examples in this blog.

  3. Timothy Marecki

    Since I live in an apartment, I can relate to antenna setup challenges. I have a lot of noise problems when using indoor antennas, so I purchased an active SW indoor loop (PK Loop 6-18 MHz) Australian made. I obtained it from ebay. Best purchase I ever made! This works great with portable radios, and runs off a 9 volt battery. I highly recommend it for its ability to null RFI and manmade noise.

  4. Thomas Empson

    I live in a condo with strict rules about outdoor electrical equipment. I first pinned up a thin white wire to the top of the wall facing north-south. The ceiling is also white so the wire is virtually invisible. Later I ran another white wire along the east-west facing wall then out the door and down beside the drainpipe. I ran a separate wire beside the front drainpipe. The N-S facing wall brought in some signals but also a lot of multiples of a powerful MW (AM) station in town. The front drainpipe verticle wire only brought in RFI. The combo horizontal-verticle antenna worked the best. After reading an article stating that verticle antennas pick up more noise than horizontal ones I disconnected the wire beside the drainpipe from the E-W facing wire. It is now my best antenna. No more verticles for me. I live on the 3rd floor.

  5. Tim Marecki

    I was living in an apartment in Temple Terrace, Florida. There was no way to
    string a shortwave wire antenna outside. However, I did have a screen porch, and was able to fashion a thin wire and tuck it under plastic moulding near the ceiling. In this way it was not visible. I ran the lead wire close to the floor and also concealed from view. This was close to listening outside, and gave good results.

    Tim Marecki
    Gainesville, Florida

  6. Moshe Ze'ev Zaharia

    Since I don’t have a ham license, and people have developed hate towards antennas (“radiation”), I can’t erect an antenna on my roof, so both of my antennas are hidden.
    One tube radio is next to a window, so a 15 meter of white wire is connected to it and runs out of the window into the passion fruit hedge, and hidden in it.
    It preforms very well even into MW band. At night, the 60, 49 and 41 meter band are very crowded.
    Since the wall is bright and the wire is white, it is barely seen.
    The second antenna, which serves my second tube radio, and also the Tecsun S2000, is made of coax (rg58) that goes up to the second floor of my house.
    at the balcony it is connected to a preamp, and to another 15 meter of wire that runs along the balcony’s railing.
    Both antennas are invisible from outside.

    1. Thomas Post author

      It’s funny, Moshe. So many times, if no one sees you put up a wire antenna and the wire matches its background, no one will ever take notice!

      I once lived in a neighborhood with *very* picky neighbors. I knew if they saw me put a wire in the trees they’d A.) complain that it was unsightly and B.) claim it caused interference.

      So we erected the antenna while the neighbors weren’t around–almost under the cloak of darkness. Put a skyloop up–a fairly large one–made of thin wire with a sky blue jacket. It almost hung over the road everyone walked on.

      No one ever took notice–it was nearly invisible!

    2. DanH

      My current 106′ long wire runs over the curved driveway in front of the house and down the side yard on its way to a row of cypress trees on the back property line. Height is only 8-11′ off the ground. The front section is 20′ from the sidewalk at the nearest. I can guarantee that no one can see this antenna from the sidewalk or street unless they are intentionally looking for it. This is all part of the art of camouflage heh heh, or hiding in plain sight. I used 18 AWG solid copper, black insulated hook-up wire. In the sight line from the street or sidewalk the wire becomes essentially invisible, lost in the visual background clutter of brown roof shingles and dark green cypress trees. 18 gauge solid copper is a good choice for outdoor receiving antennas. It shows very little stretch after a year and handles the weather well. I can imagine instances where sky blue or gray insulation would work very well, too.

      1. DanH

        Using household telephone wiring for an SW antenna is good for an emergency, at best. Typically, phone lines will carry a lot of noise that you would much rather do without, not to mention DSL. These phone lines pick up the noise from your household AC wiring, too.

        You would be better off using one of those 23′ reel antennas (or 23′ of wire) indoors than using telephone wiring.

  7. Jake

    I lived in a small eastern European country from ’98-2000. I lived on the second floor of a student dormitory —-picture one of those hideous Stalinist apartment blocs. I procured a long length of copper wire from the small village market as well as a spool of thin but strong poly rope/string. I managed to get the occupant of the top floor room in the bloc to loop the rope around one of the rails of his balcony. I attached the end of the wire to the rope and was able to raise and lower my longwire antenna up and down from their balcony to mine when I needed to. I did my listening on a Grundig YB400. Man…I loved that thing…still have it. Made me a hardcore Grundig devotee.

    1. DL4NO

      You should remember that Grundig as a producer ended in 2003. Only the trade mark is left and can be bought to label a product.

      Grundig was founded by Max Grundig, a radio dealer in Fuerth, west of Nuernberg, 150 km north of Munich. A part of his income in the 1930s and 40s came from inhabitants of Fuerth that had bought a radio in Nuernberg. Fuerth had a DC power grid, Nuernberg an AC power grid. You can imagine what happened to the transformers…

      After WW2 the German producers had administrative problems to produce radios. Vaccum tubes were hard to get. So Max Grundig developed a radio kit, called Heinzelmann, and sold it without tubes. From 1945-48 he built 40,000 kits. See http://www.welt.de/kultur/history/article111491616/Grundigs-Heinzelmann-vs-Hitlers-Volksempfaenger.html

      Later Grundig was a big producer of radios, TV sets and tape recorders here in Germany.

      What you find at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grundig is “a bit” different from what I know about my own local history. Especially the Turkish company entered the picture much later.

  8. William Parmley

    Wow, does this ever bring back memories. Back in the 60s I was an SWL with a Hallicrafters S-40A receiver and a regular reader of Popular Electronics with a WPE “callsign”. One month they had an article about stealth antennas and one of the recommendations was to use very fine enameled wire, such as #30. Over the years I have tried this several times, not always for pure stealth but sometimes just as an easy way to erect a temporary antenna inside the house. Fine wire run along the joint between molding and a wall and holding it in place with straight pins is essentially invisible and doesn’t detract much from the decor. I still recall that the article speculated about the practicality of using such antennas for transmitting and told the story of a ham who tried it out. Unfortunately, according to the article a couple of test dits and it disappeared into a puff of smoke. 🙂
    I don’t recall if it was in the same article or not, but there was a design published that placed a few square inches of metal foil between insulating layers (such as aluminum foil between thin cardboard) with a short wire lead attached. If you sat your rotary dial desk telephone (remember those?) on top of the foil, it capacitively coupled to the telephone line and made a fantastic antenna. I gave that one a try too and it worked.
    Memories, memories… Thanks!

  9. Mighty Mik

    I am currently using a Mini Circuits T9-1 9:1 balun that is attached to a pair of leads on the primary and some DX Engineering RG8x coax on the secondary. Hot glue is used to seal the connections, and the 3:1 self sealing heat shrink tubing is shrunk over that, making a weather sealed connection. That is attached to an unused phone drop ( wires are hanging outside of box). Some of the other wires in that bundle may be carrying DSL traffic … so noise ?

    1. Thomas Post author

      Quite possibly, I would assume. There is so much noise emanating from every wire these days, you’d have to assume some interference unless the cables are fiber.

  10. John AE5X

    I spent a year at sea on a merchant ship back in the early ’90’s. A port call in Singapore netted me a Magnavox D2999 SWL receiver and my plan was to use it to keep up with what was going on in the world during our months at sea. To my dismay, no stations whatsoever were receivable in my stateroom with the radio’s telescopic antenna – but I did have a porthole. A short length of very thin “magnet wire” from the porthole to a deck fixture 15 feet away did the trick and allowed me to receive the VOA, BBC and many other stations while at sea.

    1. Thomas Post author

      That’s fantastic, John. I bet your ground plane compensated for the antenna!

      My XYL and I will eventually take a long ocean voyage on a cargo ship. Some do allow travellers. I can’t wait to play a little radio while at sea.

      I wonder if you still have that Magnavox?

  11. Steven Andros

    I grew up in an apartment complex in Winter Park Florida the late 70’s and in spite of my antenna limitations,managed to really enjoy SWL.

    As a young teenager I mustered the courage and asked the complex manager if I could deploy a simple wire antenna – carefully explaining (to deaf ears) that it was for receive purposes only. CB radio was in it’s heyday back then, and TVI was a common irritation. In spite of my efforts to reassure him that there was NO way I was going to wreck anyone’s TV reception, the expected knee jerk reaction “NO” was delivered.

    Not willing to accept an unreasonable “No” for an answer, I proceeded anyway…

    The fact that I HAD to be covert suddenly made the hobby that much enjoyable! James bond and the cold war in general were at the forefront of my attention back then, and the thrill of a covert “Spy” antenna was simply too appealing to resist.

    “Mr. Green” – the complex maintenance supervisor was a grumpy rotten S.O.B. – with a bad eye he kept half closed. Given his position, he would be the one most likely to discover my antenna, so I knew success would be dependent on stealth.

    We lived on the second story of a flat roofed 2 story building. Trees were not an option. My situation was complicated by the fact that I didn’t have roof access.

    My antenna solution was pretty crude, but it worked out nicely: I unwound the fine wire from a deflection yoke – salvaged from an old TV, then I attached the end of the wire to a weight – several items were tried – and old open end wrench worked best.

    In the dead of night – naturally, I dropped the weight and wire out of my bedroom window onto the ground. I then went outside and then stretched it out. Taking one last look around to make sure I wouldn’t be discovered, I threw the wrench as hard as I could onto the roof – deploying the wire. The wire was quite thin – probably about 26 gauge, making it really difficult for old Mr. green to notice it! I doubt I managed to get more than 35 feet onto the roof – but propagation was great back in those days, and I enjoyed countless hours listening to the world on an assortment of old but usable receivers.

    This adventure lit the fuse on a hobby, and a career in electronics that has spanned 30+ years and counting!

  12. Eric

    Back in the 80’s, I was living in an apartment complex and was on the top floor. The complex was FILLED with blue haired, old, crotchety, retires. The type that despised even seeing me and my girlfriend as we were the youngest there by at least 40 years! At night, I would go out on the balcony and toss a very small sandbag attached to the end of my antenna as far up and over the roof as I could possibly throw. When I was done listening for the night, I’d simply pull it back in. I only got caught one time when I forgot to pull it back in – one of the blue haired, old, crotchetyladies spied my speaker wire antenna and threw a FIT! The building maintenance guy came to the apartment and yelled while the “lady” was standing behind him with a smug smile on her face…

  13. DL4NO

    For listening on SW you do not need a large antenna. Antenna efficiency is of no concern, signal-to-noise ratio is.

    If you can run a cable to the attic or, even better, to the outside, try an active antenna like the Mini Whip, a design by the Dutch radio amateur PA0RDT. You can easily build it yourself, google it.

    Such an active antenna can easily put into a 20 or 30 cm long tube. For placing the first priority is to put it away from any RFI source like house wiring. Second priority is to put it as free and high as possible.

  14. Tha Dood

    One APT that I lived at I used discarded TV degausser wire, the really thin stuff that must have been like #28AWG. I ran that to a maple tree about 70ft away. That worked with 3 receivers that I’ve used there, Kenwood R-1000, Sangean ATS-803A (The same as the Realistic DX-440), and an Icom IC-745. Heard all kinds of 40M pirates with that. Listened to HAM friends that had their HF classes. It wasn’t too bad for MW DX’ing as well. That thin wire could really only be seen against a clear blue sky and knowing where to look. Certainly beat my prior location, a bottom floor of an APT complex, no outside antennas allowed, and a longwire inside mostly brought in S+40/9 of sodium lights BZZZZZZZZZZ at night. Yuk…

  15. Paul

    Great post! I’ve never set up a ‘covert’ antenna, but my Tecsun PL-380 came with a half-decent wire antenna (approx. 3m?) which I currently have attached around the inside of my window frame. It gives noticeable boost to stations on both FM and SW.

    What I’d like to know is, would this aerial be much better hanging outside the window, or even strung out of the window away from the building?

    I live in a city on the 2nd floor of a brick apartment building. My best guess is that electronic interference is my biggest issue – but I’d love to know if it might be worth me getting the wire antenna out slightly away from the wall.

  16. Neil Goldstein - W2NDG

    In an apartment years ago, the wife and I were putting up borders in several of the rooms. Because of the size of the living-dining area and the layout of the place, I was able to hide more than 50 feet of window alarm tape under the border, on exterior walls. Made a nice indoor random wire. The feed ran down a curtain panel for a sliding door, and was mostly invisible. Although an outdoor antenna would have been better, the area and the building was surprisingly quiet rfi-wise.

    1. Michael Black

      That’s. factor. In the seventies with an SP-600 I got by for some years with just some wire hanging from the antenna jack. It seemed fie, but maybe I didn’t know better.

      Now there’s so much electronics in the house that the noise level is much higher. A decade ago when I got a portable receiver, my first SW receiver in some time, I thought it was dead, even WWV and CHU were barely there.

      Moving to near the window, suddenly there were stations coming in, maybe the house is better shielded, but the noise from the electronics had to be factor.


      1. Neil Goldstein

        It obviously depends on each person’s own location, and yes, time and progress have changed the levels of indoor RFI. My example with the alarm tape was almost 30 years ago. These days I have to go around unplugging things like cable boxes and some switching power supplies before even using the outdoor antennas. Modern microwave ovens are the worst offenders that I’ve found in the home.


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