160m is cool.

“Top band,” “the Gentleman’s Band,” “MF” or whatever you call it, 160 meters is a blast. And it’s surging in popularity, much thanks to Joe Taylor and his weak signal modes. You may have opinions on those modes counting as real radio or not, but your opinion doesn’t really matter. The fact is that more operators than ever are finding 160 and most of them are doing it from city lots!

The true beauty of 160 is that the playing field is pretty level; even the most extensive arrays are still very much compromise systems. Consider for a moment that a true 1/4-wave vertical made out of tower sections is only as effective as it’s radial network. Consider for an additional moment that your wire inverted-L over a more extensive radial field might just smoke that first example.

Nick, K1NZ runs an inverted-L with a single radial, no RX antenna nor amplifier, and works EU on demand with the new FT8 mode. At my current QTH, I’ve worked at least 100 countries with a simple half sloper and a 250′ beverage-on-ground (BOG), primarily on CW. Neither of us are particularly skilled with antenna modeling and both of us face space restrictions.

There’s a lot of information online for anyone looking to get on topband, and plenty of misinformation. Here’s what I’ve learned as it applies to this QTH only (your mileage may vary):

  • Verticals crush dipoles on 160. Crush is the strongest responsible word I can find to use.
  • Elevated radials are better. I found 6-8 played nice with inverted-L type antennas here over the years.
  • Buried radials are less efficient, so you’ll have to use more. The point of diminishing returns at my QTH was 30 evenly-spaced radials slightly buried or on the ground. This agrees with the consensus among various mailing list geniuses.
  • Use an amp. Absorption is very high on 160; the extra dB’s help.
  • Nobody really understands propagation this low, and the best openings may only last a few minutes — VOAcap and similar programs are critical for the serious operator.
  • Immediately at grayline (and ONLY then), my low dipoles outperform my beverages for RX and my verticals for TX. There is no good explanation for it, but ON4UN notes a similar phenomenon.
  • Beverages are cheap; build one if you have the real estate. If you don’t, you should try a BOG. If you don’t have space for that, try a Shared Apex Loop or a K9AY loop. There’s no excuse for being an alligator!
  • Learn CW. Try the JT weak signal modes. Do something new.

See you on topband!



Switchable coaxial BOG

(Note: this is a reprint of a blog post I made August 21, 2013 on an older iteration of this site — I will be uploading additional photos to this post as I recover them)

I often tell visitors that my best antenna is actually my simplest: a 400 -foot beverage-on-ground (BOG) for listening on 160 and 80. It is constructed from leftover RG-213 that I no longer trusted under power. The only expense were the cores, and at $0.40/pc, it was hardly an expense.

I got this design from Low Band DX’ing by ON4UN, with a few modifications. His version was designed around a 50Ω element with 75Ω feedline. My design used a 50Ω element with 50Ω feedline, so I required an isolation transformer. Additionally, I used a series of radials at the far end (for the reflection transformer), but mostly because these radials already existed from a previous project.


The antenna has two feedlines, one for each direction. The feeds are standard 50Ω coax, and are just long enough to produce a choke. They then go to a relay box so I can switch directions. In the shack, the user interface looks like two sustain toggle switches, allowing the operator to listen NE or SW or both. EDIT: you can see me operating the control to diagnose some plasma TV noise on a later post

So how does it work?

It works well. It is certainly not a real beverage, but it definitely hears better than my 160 and 80 transmit antennas (sloper and linear-loaded tower, respectively). During the ARRL 160 and CQ 160 (ph & cw), I worked many stations that I could not have heard without this antenna. Contrary to popular belief, Europe isn’t so easily had from New England, even when conditions are good, and a listening antenna is often required.

The main benefit of this BOG is that it is a good “family” antenna. If you have a yard that you must share with your kids, dog, barbecue, etc., this is a good solution. When it is time to mow, I simply roll up the coax. Mine stays laid out the full year, but this would also be a great antenna for someone who could only use the yard during the winter. It will work better than your transmit antenna, and if it doesn’t — you just have some spare coax for your next project.

Further experiments

I’ve tried lengthening the element by 50 feet without any noticeable result. I’ve disconnected the ground at the near and far end with only negligible results, and I’ve played with the radials at the reflection transformer (also with negligible results). This is a compromise antenna, but it is somewhat impervious to these changes. It should also be noted that the ground in my area is very, very good.

In the future, I plan to lengthen the antenna even further (I think I can get another 100 feet in during the winter). I would also like to experiment with elevating the element by a few feet to observe any changes.