[HCDX] Electrically-Short Dipole Antennas
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[HCDX] Electrically-Short Dipole Antennas

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Electrically-Short Dipole Antennas
Mark Connelly, WA1ION - 8 APR 2001

A dipole antenna normally is cut for approximately one half of a wavelength.
The customary formula is (468 / F)  feet or (142.65 / F) meters where F is
the frequency in MHz.  This works out to about 0.48 wavelength.  The dipole
antenna has seen little use at medium wave because of its impractically
large dimensions: about 883 feet / 269 m at the low end of the broadcast
band (530 kHz).  Furthermore, for the antenna to perform well, it has to be
a minimum of a quarter-wave above the ground if mounted horizontally.  If
set up vertically, its top end is a half wave (or greater) above ground and
if sloped at 45 degrees, the top end is at least 0.35 wavelength high.

In a quest for a compact omnidirectional passive antenna of reasonable
dimensions, I did some measurements on vertical and sloping dipoles
measuring only 33 ft. / 10 m total length (16.5 ft. / 5 m each side of the
center feed point).  This antenna is less than 0.02 wavelength at 530 kHz
and 0.06 wavelength at 1700 kHz.  Obviously, in this frequency range, such
an antenna is a very poor match to direct 50 ohm feed.

The way to get a reasonable amount of signal capture out of such a compact
antenna, without resorting to distortion and noise producing amplification,
is through the use of passive devices to improve the match.  A narrowband
technique (a remotely adjustable inductive - capacitive (L-C) tank at the
feed point) is ultimately the best approach in terms of efficiency, but it
is difficult to implement and does not lend itself to frequency-agile DXing.

Matching with a broadband balun transformer is the other approach that can
be used.  The ratio to be used is fairly high because an electrically-short
dipole presents a much higher impedance than 50 ohms.  I did tests with two
transformers: one had a 36:1 impedance ratio, the other a 16:1 ratio.  The
high impedance winding leads went to the antenna elements and the low
impedance winding to the coaxial cable.  I also had 9:1, 4:1, and 1:1
transformers available for testing if results indicated the 16:1 better than
the 36:1 unit.  This, however, was not necessary as the 36:1 transformer
gave the better results across the medium wave dial.  I set up a 10 m (total
length) center-fed dipole in a nearly-vertical configuration suspended by a
nylon rope over a high branch on a black locust tree in the backyard at my
home location in Billerica, MA (GC =71.221 W / 42.533 N).  The bottom of the
antenna was about 1.5 m off the ground and the coaxial feed ran about 20 m
from the balun box (at the middle of the antenna) into the house: I tried to
keep the feedline close to a right angle to the dipole as much as possible. 
Daytime signal measurements on some groundwave locals were made using the
Drake R8A in PREAMP ON mode.  Across the band, the 36:1 transformer showed a
4 to 8 dB advantage over the 16:1.

Measurements with the 16:1 transformer (Mini-Circuits T16-6T-X65)

WEZE-590: S9+16
WRKO-680: S9+51
WEEI-850: S9+28
WBZ-1030: S9+27
WKOX-1200: S9+12
WWZN-1510: S9+35

Measurements with the 36:1 transformer (Mini-Circuits T36-1-X65)

WEZE-590: S9+20
WRKO-680: S9+55
WEEI-850: S9+36
WBZ-1030: S9+35
WKOX-1200: S9+20
WWZN-1510: S9+39

Homebrew transformers of various ratios may be tried in future experiments. 
One possible design is a 25:1 transformer consisting of a 40 turn high
impedance winding on the opposite side of an FT-140-43 toroid from an 8 turn
low impedance winding.  The larger core than what's used in the
Mini-Circuits models would tend to reduce the likelihood of harmonic and
intermodulation distortion in strong-signal areas.  With the Mini-Circuits
transformers I used, I did notice a slight amount of WRKO-680 audio under
WLYN-1360 (680 * 2).  WRKO's 50 kW transmitter is about 5 km from my home

The short dipole picked up less local electrical noise (relative to desired
signals) than an active whip.  If a 1:1 isolation transformer is used at the
"shack" end of the coaxial cable, noise can be reduced a bit more in some
circumstances.  A broadband loop (square loop at 3 m per side, coupled
through 1:1 transformers on each end of the coaxial feedline) was still
quieter than the dipole in terms of locally-produced TV / other electrical
noise pick-up.

Signal levels produced by an efficiently-coupled short dipole are adequate
for typical DXing.  When more gain is needed, a good high-Q regenerative
preselector amplifier will bring marginal signals up out of the mud.

The primary niche that the short dipole has is a very space-conserving
antenna for small pieces of land.  A broadband loop (as described above) can
be located close to the dipole and the two antennas can be phased to produce
a cardioid pattern.  When more land is available, you can phase two vertical
dipoles spaced at approximately 60 m on the desired peak-null axis.

Sloping the short dipole off true vertical only has a slight effect on
directivity.  An antenna of such small dimensions does not have much in the
way of inherent nulls.  If setting up two of these antennas about 60 m apart
for phasing, it might help to slope one the opposite way of the other to
make the antennas a little "more different".  Setting the antenna up in a
horizontal position probably does reduce the low angle pick-up some.  

If a tree or other support much taller than 10 m is available, the dipole
can be scaled up in size.  With a 20 m antenna length, the transformer ratio
can probably be lowered to something in the 4:1 to 12:1 range.  As you
approach a half wavelength, the required ratio goes down to 1:1.  The closer
the size of the antenna gets to resonance, the greater the sensitivity. 
Still I was quite surprised at how much signal can be obtained from an
electrically short dipole when the correct matching transformer is used.

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