Antenna Parties


Sometimes even a seemingly simple job can turn into something far more convoluted............




A CB radio station is basically comprised of two main parts, the radio and the antenna.  Both parts can be either elaborate or simple, expensive or cheap, and each part has many brand and model offerings to choose from.  One thing is certain though, you must have both parts if you want to participate in the hobby.  Setting up the radio side normally requires little more consideration than deciding which flat surface in the house is the best place to put the box full of electronics.  Sometimes it's in the family room or kitchen.  Other times it's cleverly squirreled away in some corner of the basement or workshop.  Installing the antenna, on the other hand, is not quite as easy to facilitate.  Most sage radio operators agree that the antenna is the most important part of the complete radio system.  A little extra attention spent here can mean the difference between making routine long distance contacts and maintaining reliable local communications, or being the guy lost in the static who can only be heard when the channel is quiet.  Practically speaking, that means buying the largest antenna that you can afford and mounting it as high up as practical.  Of course, most of us could not afford the absolute best antenna system.  If we could, we'd have simply flipped through a catalog, selected the biggest monster beam, and then hire a tower installation company to erect a 100' tower, and mount the behemoth to the top.  Then we'd write them a fat check, and run in the house and start operating.  But most of us were of more "modest" means, and our selection of the ideal antenna system was more an exercise in trial and error and compromise than anything else.  Adding to the enormity of the task was the fact that none of us had ever put up a large antenna before we got into radio, so we were doing a lot of guess work when it came to what worked and what didn't, with respect to both the antenna's performance, and the structure which holds it in the air.  Because of these factors, shortcuts were often taken, both deliberate and as a result of ignorance, and mistakes were made as a result (see This Story about my own antenna foibles).  But as with many similar themes which highlighted my experiences in CB radio in the 1970's, the silver lining in this dark cloud of uncertainty was that the learning curve of antenna installations often provided a certain level of personal satisfaction, a wealth of accumulated knowledge and, perhaps best of all,  the excuse to hang out and bond with other similarly like-minded radio enthusiasts.  Things that would not have happened had we simply hired someone to do it for us.  And so was borne, the "Antenna Party".  Most of the local operators were more than willing to lend a hand when one of us had an antenna to put up.  All one had to do was get on the channel and announce that they had a new antenna sitting in the box to put up and people would literally fall out of the woodwork to volunteer to help.  Some showed up with tools, construction know-how, or simply an abundance of good ol' fashioned muscle.  Other's were little more than good natured comic relief or were utilized for "gofer" functions.  But at the end of the day it didn't matter who did what, as the antenna would (usually) be high up in the air, and that night we would all flock to our radios to compare signal readings and decide whether that new antenna was worth the effort, or whether there would be yet another new antenna to put up in the near future. 


My own personal accounts of Antenna Parties, were somewhat memorable in a few cases, and very much routine in others.  Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) for me, my own antenna work normally didn't require much in the way of help, and I was able to handle the task by myself in the early days.  But back then my antennas were mounted on a simple pole made up of 2 sections of 10' mast which I could walk up from the ground myself, so attaching a new ground plane antenna was simply a matter of attaching the antenna to the mast and then walking it up into place.  I did bend a radial once when the bottom of the mast popped up from the hole as I was walking it up, and the antenna pivoted downward with the radial being the only thing stopping it from hitting the ground. The radial did its best job, but it wasn't quite strong enough to hold the weight of the antenna and the mast so it bent a bit. I was luckily able to straighten it out without it snapping and the antenna went up without further incident.


Antenna jobs at the locations of some of my other friends were sometimes a little trickier.  One time, the gang (gang being myself, Jimmy, Joe and Kenny) from Channel 13 was assembled in the front yard of Kenny's house trying to figure out how to put up his newly acquired Wilson Shooting Star.  Kenny's house was the end unit of a group of 2 story row homes and equipped with a flat roof.  He already had a tripod mount on the roof, where his current Starduster antenna was mounted.  But he had put that up himself and had gained access to the roof, via a small trap door to do it.  He was able to assemble the small omni-directional antenna right on the roof and put it up himself.  But that plan was not going to work for the much larger Shooting Star, which required heavier mast plus the antenna hardware was too long and would not pass through the trap door.  We needed a different way up to the roof.  The only ladder available reached to about 5 feet short from the top of the roof.  We were running out of options until Jimmy realized that if he drove his truck up on the front lawn and the ladder was placed on the hood of the truck, it would raise it just enough to make the top of the roof.  But there was a problem. The hood of the truck was far too slippery for the ladder to hold steady.  Not to be dissuaded from his idea, Jimmy (who's a carpenter by trade) quickly fashioned a platform out of 2X4's and some plywood and placed that on the hood of the truck to keep the ladder from slipping.  We were then able to scamper up the ladder (I was a lot more daring, or maybe more stupid back then) onto the roof to eventually complete the project.  


Probably the most interesting antenna party I had the pleasure of participating in was at Blue Bandit's house.  The time was sometime in later 1974 or early '75, when Bandit decided to upgrade from his Antenna Specialists "Super Magnum" 1/2 wave ground plane to a "Super Scanner"  electrically rotatable combination beam/omni.  But not only did he upgrade the antenna, he also wanted to raise it up a bit higher than before, so he bought 40' of thick wall steel gas pipe to mount the antenna to.  Since the new mast was quite a bit heavier than standard antenna mast, it was far too much for one or even two people to handle.  So we had to assemble a group of guys to raise it up.  So, on the chilly overcast day that we set aside for the job at hand, a motley crew of local guys showed up to help with the task.  Besides Bandit and myself, we had Smokey Joe, Rebel, Tiger 7, Turtle, and a few others.  We figured it should be an easy task to armstrong the mast up to a vertical position, and the job shouldn't take more than an hour or so.  The project started out well enough, as we propped the mast up on a 6' step ladder, mounted the Super Scanner to it, and taped the coax and control cable to the mast.  A hole was also dug for the mast to be placed in.  All was ready, or so we thought.  Since I was the skinny 14 year old kid, it was my job to stand on the mast end to keep it in the hole, while the "heftier" guys were going to hoist the antenna up into the vertical position.  At least that was Plan "A".  But since none of us were physics majors, we had no way of knowing what was about to happen.  So as the guys started pushing the pole up, the weight of the antenna started to bend the pipe, then the force exerted on the bottom of the pipe caused it to pop rather abruptly out of the ground easily past my foot narrowly missing forever altering my future sexual experiences.   Needless to say, the sudden shift in the fulcrum point, from the ground to the people holding the mast, caused the antenna end of the pipe to lose altitude just as abruptly and it crashed to the ground with a resounding "crunch", bending one of the elements and snapping one of the horizontal boom sections in the process.  Well, we realized that we would not be able get the antenna up that way.  The pipe sections had to be separated again, the bent section cut off and reassembled again.  We fixed the broken antenna boom by bolting a section of angle iron to the broken boom sections.  Once the repairs were completed, we were ready to try again with Plan "B".  This time a rope was attached to the mast just under the antenna.  Three guys climbed up on the roof to pull up on the mast by the rope, while the remaining 3 guys pushed up the pole from the ground.  This time the pipe didn't bend and the antenna finally made it to the vertical position.  The nylon guy lines were then attached and the the job was done.  


I was fortunate to have helped out many more people over the years.  Most of these antenna jobs went far more smoothly than the above examples. But they all had one thing in common, and that was the fact that anytime someone in the group had an antenna to put up, there was never a shortage of people willing to help out.  It was all part of what made CB radio much more than just a radio hobby.