SWL Receiving Antenna Experiments

Introduction

I have a lot to learn about SWL antennas. What follows are some brief experiments I performed in late October 2005. I have been experimenting with a half wavelength end-fed wire for use as a portable 40M band HAM transceiver (receive and transmit) antenna. This wire antenna is 67 feet long. End fed wires are very popular with those who pack a small portable transceiver when backpacking and camping. No feed line is required and the far end of the wire can be strung up using objects such as nearby trees or collapsible, portable poles. An elaborate ground system is not required. The return for the RF energy to ground might be grounding rod(s), short or long radial(s), or even just capacitively coupling to the local environment (including the operator!). Simple tuners are easily built to transform the high (thousands of ohms) wire impedance to the 50 ohms or so required by the transmitter.

I wanted to know if I could use this antenna as a tunable receive antenna for the the 30 and 31 Meter bands in addition to a tunable transmit/receiver antenna for my HAM radio work on 40 Meters.   What I verified is that tuning a multiband receive only antenna is not very practical.   When you tune a receive antenna you increase received noise and desired signals proportionally and therefore do not improve the signal to noise ratio in a meaningful way. Sometimes until you perform some experimentation, you don't really believe even good advice.


To the right:  A computer simulation of a 40 Meter band end-fed Wire performed by W7ZOI on W7EL's EZnec program. The simulation was for 10.1 and 7.0 MHz with a 22 and 12 gauge wire. One 33 ft radial was used from the base of the 23.7 ft piece up 0.3 feet from the ground in this simulation. Z is impedance. Z and j are complex numbers used to represent the multi-dimensional quantities of the AC analysis of this antenna. In actual fact, j is an imaginary number. I suggest you might just ignore j unless your are well informed about impedance arithmetic.


Antenna Matching


A tuner can help match the impedance of the wire antenna and feed line (if used) to the input impedance of the receiver at a given frequency. This will result in more received signal and noise voltage to the receiver's input. HAM radio enthusiasts use antenna tuners to transform the impedance between the radio and the antenna tuner to 50 ohms to allow maximal output power from their transmitter. Non- amateur radio operators, can not use transmitters to match their antennas. This leaves either using receiver noise, S-Meter or an antenna analyzer such as the MFJ259. I just used my ears and S-meter. All of the tuners presented work as transmitter tuners as well. Any network used for transmitter work must be able to handle the output power of the transmitter final amplifier.


The Wire Antenna Experiments


I tried 3 different antenna tuners to see if I could tune an 18 gauge wire on 40-41 and 30-31 meters. My wire went from my computer room in the basement out a hole in the wall and sloped at ~ 50 degrees up to a rope tied to a tree in my backyard. The tip of the antenna is about 50 feet (15 meters) high. A 10 gauge insulated ground wire also passes from the computer room outside under the back lawn. It is "earthed" to two, 2 meter copper grounding rods hammered into the ground. No direct connection to the house ground system and the outside antenna grounding system should be made as this may result in increased receiver noise.


Antenna Tuner 1


The schematic on the left below, is very popular with HAMS who use it to to tune monoband end-fed wires. It is very simple and works reasonably well. Although the capacitor was able to resonate the 35 turns inductor, the T1 turns ratio was wrong and reducing it to 28:3 was required to get the maximum receiver signal in my experiments on the 40 and 41 meter bands. The alternative was to shorten or lengthen the wire antenna which is not very practical as it meant repeatedly climbing a tree.

Above right: An improved version of the Antenna Tuner 1 schematic from W7ZOI. This tuner has 2 user "tweaking" adjustments much like most modern commercial antenna tuners (which typically also have a band changing adjustment).
I did not build this version.

In addition, this tuner would not tune the 67 foot wire on the 30 or 31 meters band. This was no surprise. When I turned the variable capacitor, I noticed some change in received signal, but not much. The signal strength was very poor and I could not hear much of anything.

Below. Two built up views of the Antenna Tuner 1 schematic. I soldered the antenna wire to the circuit in the isolated area connecting the inductor and capacitor. The outside antenna ground wire was soldered to the large copper ground plane.



Antenna Tuner 2


This was the next tuner I built. Antenna tuner 2 tuned very sharply on the 40 and 41 Meter bands. It is designed to match a high impedance antenna, so it could not match the medium impedance (~150 ohms) wire to the 30 and 31 meter bands very well at all. Since ~ 150 ohms is fairly close to my receivers 50 ohm input impedance, I just connected the wire antenna directly to my receiver. The received noise and signals were then much stronger than those with the Antenna Tuner 2 network in the circuit on 30-31 meters.

Above: Two constructed views of the Antenna Tuner 2 schematic. The variable capacitors were bought at a HAM festival in 1992 for 2 dollars each.


Antenna Tuner 3


The next antenna tuner topology I tried was the familiar L network. Circuit A is configured in a shunt L (inductor to ground) and series C (capacitor) and is a high pass L network. Circuit B is configured in a series L and shunt C and is a low pass L network.

L networks (especially the low pass form) are very popular as random wire tuners. MFJ sells an excellent version as the model MFJ-16010. A photograph of this tuner is shown below right. The above left photograph was taken by DS5CKP who also sells a random wire antenna tuner at: http://user.chollian.net/~cyberline/ckptuner.htm

Above. MFJ web publishes their manual including the schematic for the MFJ-16010 random wire antenna tuner. The inductor is actually wound on 3 stacked (probably ferrite) cores which are tapped. The taps are connected to a front panel mounted 12 position switch. This allows coverage from 2-30 MHz. As a simple experiment, I tried stacking 2 and then 3 FT-50-61 ferrite cores and was able to get a wind range of inductances from the 6 taps I made on my test inductor.

Numerous examples of the L network antenna tuner can be found on the web and in print including the 2006 A.R.R.L. handbook. I decided to try the high pass L network topology to experiment with.

I built part A of the Antenna Tuner 3 schematic with shunt L and series C. On the 40-41 meter bands I tried 3 different inductors; 4 uH, 2.1 uH and 1.3 uH. I tuned the network to get the greatest receive noise and S meter reading and measured the variable capacitor value. At 7.30 MHz, the capacitance values were 86 pF, 141 pF and 182 pF respectively. Although non-critical, I settled on a 2.6 uH inductor (23 turns on a T50-2 powdered iron torroid) so I could use a junk-box 10-150 pF variable capacitor to resonate it. Later I decided just a trimmer capacitor might do. You need around 125 pF at 7.30 MHz to tune the network with a 2.6 uH inductor (to give you a ballpark C value to start with).

Schematic to the right: A very small receiver tuner that allowed the L network to be switched in and out of the antenna path was constructed. The L network is tuned on 40-41 meters via a small trimmer cap on top of the double pole, double throw switch. A small plastic alignment screw driver is used for signal peaking. An air variable capacitor would be much easier to tune as you move up and down these bands.

Below left: Front view. Technically, the switch label should indicate 40M and bypass as the bypassed antenna could be used on any band.

Below right: Rear view The trimmer cap can be seen on top of the switch.

Below left: Side view, the antenna wire is held via an alligator clip. This allows me to unclip and ground the antenna when it is not in use. The antenna ground wire is soldered to the copper ground plane.

Below right: A T6-8 core wound with with 24 gauge wire. I used larger powered iron torroids to wind my inductors, however, they can also be wound on ferrite cores or be air-wound. The core size, wire gauge and type of inductor used can affect the selectivity and insertion loss of the tuner network, however for practical receiving purposes it is not a major concern.



Conclusion


The final experiment allow me to easily switch between a matched and direct 67 foot wire antenna on 40 and 41 meters. I performed several listening tests and generally agree with those who say receive antenna tuners offer little to no improvement in signal readability. The only advantages I can think of for matching a receive antenna to a reasonably quiet and sensitive receiver are:

  1. There may be some improvement in the receiver front end filter function as these filters are designed to have a specific input impedance.
  2. Certain balanced mixers may function better with the correct impedance on their RF port.
  3. The tuner itself (depending on design) may marginally improve the front end selectivity of the receiver it is connected to.

I do like the noise roar and louder signals with the matched antenna on 40 and 41 meters, although this is totally subjective. I think the reason for this is that as a HAM radio operator who always matches the antenna for any band I am on, I am used to louder signals and noise levels. I also spent most of my first 10 years of HAM radio operation on 80 and 160 meters which are relatively noisy bands and have been conditioned so that noise is "normal".

On 30-31 meters the bypassed antenna worked quite well and the L network can be switched in as an attenuator. Perhaps you might build up a tuner and try for yourself!

Although they are simple, low cost and easy to put up, it is likely unwise to use an end-fed wire without coaxial feed line as a receiving antenna. The ground wire is part of the antenna system and easily picks up household generated noise which will present to your receivers input. The time honored and easiest methods to reduce receiver noise are to get your antenna away from the house and other noise sources, use buried coaxial cable feed line to the house and directly earth ground the shield of the feed line with stakes. Antenna/ feed line "link coupling" by a transformer may also reduce noise (especially if the antenna system is balanced) and this topic begs further study.


Suggested Links

There are some fabulous web sites on the topic of SWL antennas and reducing receiver noise. I suggest these 5. Try a Google search for more.

http://www.dxing.info/equipment/

http://www.hard-core-dx.com/nordicdx/antenna/feed/feed1.html

http://www.aa5tb.com/efha.html

http://www.nyx.net/~dgrunber/

As usual, I learned a great deal from the process of experimenting. I look forward to spring when some more antenna experiments can be performed.