The QTH hunt continues.
I have a unique advantage that I underappreciated when I was younger: I was a ham long before I owned a home (about 18 years, in fact). This means that as I shop for a QTH, I can do so with a few factors in mind specific to radio that might not be a concern for most home buyers.
But just what makes a great QTH? Well, there are a few obvious considerations – don’t be in a valley, for example. There isn’t much other written wisdom available here. A conversation I’ve long wanted to have with the biggest multi/multi station owners starts with “If you could do it again, where would you put it?”
Luckily, I’ve managed to have such a conversation with Dave, K1TTT on several occasions over the years. Dave runs a helluva multi/multi station about 40 minutes from my house in way way Western Mass. Don’t live around here? Don’t worry — he’s imparted his wisdom on the world thanks to his magnum opus, Building a Superstation, a several hundred-page book available free online.
Dave explains that while he wasn’t a contester when he purchased his now famous property, asking for “good views” worked out:
The most important thing I learned was to get a Real Estate agent, but not to rely completely on the agent. I basically told the agent I wanted a house ‘out of town’, with 5 or more acres, and ‘good views’. -Dave, K1TTT in Building a Superstation
In my case, I have a realtor who understands that I do radio stuff and I’ve more or less given him a primer on what it is I need. I modified Dave’s “good views” -trick slightly to “good views in [x] directions,” and at this point, my realtor can point towards EU, JA, and the Caribbean on command. I’ve also given some other edicts…
- Must be in the middle of nowhere. If I can’t mow the grass while naked, the neighbors are either too close or too interested.
- Wooded is OK, clear is best. Towers don’t like trees and this is W1; ice season never seems to end around here.
- Minimum 10 acres. Land isn’t expensive in these parts, especially if you’re willing to move far from town and/or buy a tract without a house on it.
- No nearby power lines. This one goes without being said.
- Prominence trumps raw elevation.
As it turns out, willingness to buy an unimproved tract (land without an existing house) is a powerful tool. Often, buying land and building is vastly cheaper than the alternative; the danger comes in the unknowns surrounding permitting, soil, etc.. I’m willing to roll in a temporary prefab home while I build if the site is right. Not having an XYL certainly helps in this regard.
Another tactic I’ve used is consulting topographic maps and geographical information services (GIS). Most of the towns around here have online GIS systems that link to their respective assessors database. I’ve used this to construct a list of the most suitable properties in the area – even the ones not presently for sale – and set up corresponding alerts in the MLS systems. The practice has also uncovered some rare gems, like town land taken on tax title. Towns around here generally auction these off from time to time, and I now know to be on the lookout for certain properties from the auction company alert emails in the next year or so.
Timing is probably paramount with the search process. I’m in a situation where I’m not compelled to move, and won’t be in the near future. I’m in no rush to find “the most suitable site” and can concentrate on finding “the most perfect site.” That being said, if I intend to build a powerhouse station by the next solar peak, I need to get moving in the next 12 months.
If this seems like overkill, well, it is. As ARRL Contest Branch Manager a few years back, I regularly had long phone calls with operators in compromised situations, be it HOA’s, condo associations, a home at the bottom of a mountain, etc.. It is important to me that I not put myself in that situation, as I’ll certainly enjoy being active on the air for as long as I’m able and all this will [hopefully] pay off.