Tag Archives: Stealth Antennas

Build an affordable (but stealthy) Magnet Wire Vertical Loop antenna to mitigate condo QRM

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following guest post:

Magnet Wire Vertical Loop Antenna

by TomL

For those of you in a noisy condo like me, the environment does not give me many options.  I was experimenting with a YouLoop on the wooden porch with somewhat acceptable results.  For its size, it is an excellent performer, especially on the lower bands.  Here is a very interesting review of the YouLoop, including close-up pictures of the innards of the phase inverter and 1:1 balun, by John S. Huggins.  However, it is not waterproof and I was concerned about the ice and snow ruining it.  I could tape up the connectors with waterproof tape but I also wanted  something with a bigger capture area.  A magnet wire stealth antenna might be just the thing!

I just happened to have a waterproof 1:1 ATU balun from Balun Designs that I was going to use for future Amateur Radio use whenever I get around to passing the next level test; it is total overkill for what I intended to use it for.  It would make a good connection point and (this one) also acts as an RF choke as well.  One can make a 1:1 balun by buying the right Type of ferrite core and winding it yourself.  Here is just one idea from Palomar Engineers.

So I dusted it off, went to a local store to get a 100 foot spool of 26 gauge magnet wire and tested it strung up around my living room. It came out to be a rectangle about 42 feet in circumference.  Results were usable. I expected lots of noise and there is a great deal across the bands, so only the strongest shortwave stations were received. However, I was surprised by how strong the mediumwave band was and good to listen to without an amplifier.

I am ambivalent towards trying to perfectly match the impedance since this is a broadband receive-only antenna and the impedance will vary greatly over MW and SW bands.  And I don’t want to mess with a remotely controlled tuned loop since this antenna was destined for the outdoor porch.  I tried a Cross Country Wireless preselector at my desk but had some mixed results.  I later found out, by disconnecting things in series, that the preselector inline raised the noise level about 5 dBm, so I took it out for now. Perhaps it needs more internal shielding or the connecting cable is bad.

Polarization is an issue, too.  I have read that most man-made noise (QRM) is vertically polarized, so why would I use a vertically oriented loop?  Then I saw David Casler’s video on loop antennas where he explains that connecting a vertical loop antenna at the bottom or the top makes it horizontally polarized (connecting the coax on the side makes it vertically polarized).  I never knew that!  Horizontal polarization will mitigate some of the offending QRM as well as match the polarization of mediumwave band transmitters.  Furthermore, I read that a horizontal loop will have poor signal pickup at low frequencies because it is not high enough off the ground, similar to a horizontal dipole. For now, a vertical loop connected to facilitate horizontal polarization is what I want.

A note about wire size. People make a big deal about it but those are mostly amateur radio people.  Transmission depends on efficiency so things like wire size, skin effect, standing waves, and other things matter (see here, for example).  With a receive-only antenna it is OK to use very thin wire.  Resonance can matter if you want the last ounce of signal strength with an antenna tuner, like in high-Q type loops where the bandwidth is very narrow and you are using a multi-turn loop with variable capacitor and a pick-up coil of wire to the receiver.  Comparatively, my simple loop is depending more on a single turn of wire, the aperture size, length of wire for its performance, and carefully isolating the feedline coax using RF chokes at both ends.

Here is one example of a strong station from Cuba I was able to record because WLW was off the air for some unexpected reason.

Radio Reloj, Cuba 870 kHz (At the end, you can hear WLW come back online with CBS news):

Side note about Radio Reloj on Wikipedia, the strange format seems to fit well with a totalitarian regime, including a “corrector” who “corrects the content/writing errors to meet the requirements”.  Read the wiki link for yourself.  Not a society I want to live in, thank you very much!

Example of 80 meter band performance – Greetings to a new person from members of the “Awful, Awful, Ugly Net”, 3855 kHz:

Encouraged by the results, I “installed” the magnet wire around the support beams of the wooden porch, wrapping it carefully to create a square loop. Holding it in place is a brick at each bottom corner since I am not allowed to nail anything into the Association-owned porch.  The length came out to about 32 feet (8 feet per side), so I trimmed it and connected to the balun.  I also added an RF choke at the Airspy HF+ input from Palomar Engineers which helped bring noise down a couple of S-units.   That might not sound like a lot but by also shutting off the living room air filter and an AC switch with “wall-wart” AC power adapters on it, I was able to reduce the noise a little bit more.  There is still a lot of noise from the neighbors, so it is not a perfect situation.

Here are two examples of reception with the outside installation.

Gateway 160 Meter Radio Newsletter, broadcast (in AM) by WA0RCR every Saturday on 1860 kHz:

Side note about the Radio Newsletter.  I stumbled on it when using the YouLoop and found that some of the content is very interesting and informative.  Of course it is geared mostly towards amateur radio but some of the news items are of general radio interest as well. It airs 1pm Saturday through 2am Sunday, USA Central Time.  Obviously, many segments repeat during that lengthy timeframe and reception depends on propagation from Missouri.

KDDR 1220 kHz, West Fargo, ND station ID (presumably “nighttime” power of 327 watts):

The shortwave bands are still a noisy disaster but signal levels are higher compared to the YouLoop.  Only the strongest stations come in like WRMI, WHRI, Radio Espana, Radio Habana, and CRI. And I can hear the loudest amateur radio operators.

Just for grins, here is Radio Rebelde on 5025 kHz when band conditions were above average:

Another phenomenon I am looking into is the reception pattern of a vertical loop.  Less than 1/10th wavelength, the null is through the center of the loop.  At one wavelength, the null manifests in the plane of the wire loop.  They are too close to phase them but switching between two directional loop antennas might improve reception depending on frequency.  We shall see in the future.

At least for now, I have a decent mediumwave band which performs better than the useful CCrane Twin-Ferrite amplified loop antenna that was used in the (noisy) indoors, I can hear the 160 & 80 meter amateur bands better, and the reception of the strongest shortwave broadcasters are more predictable.  Not bad for four dollars of wire!

Brilliant, Tom! Again, I love how you’ve not only made an inexpensive antenna, but you’ve even done it within your HOA regulations. You’re right, too: if you’re not transmitting into an antenna, it blows the experimentation door wide open! Thank you once again for sharing your project with us.

Click here to check out all of Tom’s guest posts and portable adventures!

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Guest Post: KK5JY’s Porch Loop Receiving Antenna

Can you spot the antenna in this photo?

Many thanks to Matt Roberts (KK5JY) who has kindly given me permission to re-post the following article he recently published on his website KK5JY.net. Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, for the tip!

 Note: The Porch Loop project below is a re-configured Small Receiving Loop (SRL) antenna. For SRL construction details, check out Matt’s primer.

The Porch Loop

by Matt Roberts (KK5JY)

The small receiving loop, or SRL, is a versatile, effective, and very space-efficient receive-optimized antenna for the HF bands.  They are easy to build, and can be made very inexpensively.  Most typical designs use symmetric shapes, like circles, diamonds, octagons, etc., and are mounted on some kind of mast.  This makes it easy(-ier) to install the antenna clear of nearby metal and electronics.  It also makes the antenna rotatable, so that the nulls can be pointed at RFI sources.

These aren’t the only options for the SRL, however.  These little loops can be made to fit in just about any available space.  In fact:

  • They are effective at any reasonable installation height, including very close to the ground.  The installation height doesn’t change the pattern shape, only the pattern strength.
  • They can be made nearly any shape.  The shape does not have to be symmetric about any axis or combination of axes.
  • They can be fed at just about any point on the loop.  A typical feed location is bottom-center, but off-center feeding has negligible effect on the pattern shape.
  • The wire can be bent out-of-plane; in other words, the loop doesn’t have to be “flat.”

There are a couple of requirements for obtaining predictable performance, however.  First, the antenna does need to be an electrical loop.  That is, it is a single wire connected between the conductors of the feedline, forming a complete circuit.  Also, the circumference of the loop wire should be electrically small (i.e., significantly less than ? / 4) on the bands where it is to be used.

Figure 1. The antenna location (click to enlarge)

As a personal challenge, I recently installed such a loop on my front porch.  Everything about this installation defies conventional wisdom — it was installed very close to the ground, it was an irregular shape, it was fed off-center, and the wire was wound in and around an irregular support structure, rather having all the wire in a single plane.

And the resulting antenna still performed very well.

Figure 2: Antenna Location Outlined in Red (click to enlarge)

The loop is essentially the same device as the one in the original SRL article.  See that article for more construction details.  This version is simply stretched and twisted to make it fit the space and supports available.  The wire was woven around the boards in the porch’s deck rail, and fed off to one side, so that the transformer housing could be “hidden” behind the trash cans.

Figure 3: Feedpoint Transformer (click to enlarge)

The wire was insulated with an off-white THHN, which made it blend in with the color of the trim of the house.

Figure 4: 40m Reception 10h Overnight (click to enlarge)

Even with its suboptimal installation details, the overnight 40m DX spots were numerous and well-distributed, as seen in Figure 4.  There were DX spots at nearly 10,000 miles, there were NVIS spots, and there were countless at all distances in between.  So the antenna was just as effective as its more ideally shaped brethren, despite it’s unconventional installation details.

Other ideas for possible locations of such a device could include:

  • In an attic.  The antenna could be nailed to a vertical panel, or strung like a spider’s web inside the frame of a truss or other open area.
  • Under a tree.  Taking another idea from the spiders, the antenna could be hung and pulled into shape using light guys or tree branches.
  • On a wooden fence.  If you have a wooden fence, the antenna could be installed against the fence panels.  This option could allow a wide range of circumference lengths.
  • Attached to an interior wall of an apartment.  The shape could be chosen to keep the loop clear of in-wall wiring, to help preserve its performance.

The original mast-mounted SRL antennas still have some advantages.  Perhaps the biggest advantage is that they can be easily rotated to null out a nearby strong noise source.  That said, if you are looking for an antenna with better receive performance than a large resonant vertical, the SRL can be stretched and squeezed into service just about anywhere.

Many thanks for sharing this project, Matt!  So many of our readers live in situations where they are forced to use stealthy and compromised antennas. What I love about your porch loop is that even though it breaks several loop antennas “rules,” it’s still amazingly effective. 

I encourage SWLing Post readers to check out Matt’s website as he has written articles covering a number of interesting radio and antenna projects.

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