One of the most asked questions when it comes to antennas is what kind of wire should I use. The answer is as varied as the people who put them up. Over the last 28 years I have used or have seen used every kind of wire used to make an antenna. Just one disclaimer the information below is referring to antennas used for listening and NOT transmitting. Stranded or Solid I have seen both used with great success. Stranded wire is as a rule (and we all know rules are made to be broken) easier to work with and can at times be stronger. Stranded wire is usually more flexible so if you are not putting out a straight wire or bringing it into a house or apartment it may be superior to solid core wire. Solid wire is at times (especially with thinner wire) easier to break. Coated or Bare Wire with a coating is called insulated while bare wire in uninsulated. For antennas I do prefer the coated or insulated wire. The reason for this is that coated wire can be easier to work with as if it touches something conductive such as metal it is OK. Bare wire must be kept away from anything conductive to work properly. If bare wire comes into contact with anything conductive that material becomes part of the antenna. This can ruin an antenna's pattern or worse yet a ground system. This latter matter can cause an antenna to short out or worse yet cause damage to a radio due to static discharges. The choice would be yours as the coating or insulation will NOT decrease the signals received. If radio signals can go through your brick wall the tiny amount of plastic or rubber used to coat the wire will not bother your reception. Thickness The thickness of wire is measured by its gauge. The higher the gauge number the thinner the wire. I have used wire anywhere from 24 to 16 gauge over the years. Now the very thin high gauge 24 or 22 wire was used in pairs to give it some strength. No use putting out an antenna and have the first gust of wind tear it up. Wire of 18 or 16 gauge is quite good. I often use lamp cord or light indoor extension cord wire. This is insulated and cheap to buy at any hardware store. Hey you can be frugal and buy half the wire you need and split the wires to give you the length you need on a heavier gauge wire that is twinned like the lamp cord. If you live in areas that are subject to bad weather especially high winds or ice storms heavier gauge wire should be used so it can with stand the elements if the antenna is up in the air. Copper vs. Everything Else In my humble opinion it matters not which you use. I have used everything from copper to aluminum to mystery metal over the years. I have never noticed any difference in the signal strength obtained from different types of wire. Go with the price on this topic depending on what you can obtain at your location. Simple rules to follow: Once you pick the wire you want make sure you have thought these points out: If a wire is going to be left on the ground coated/insulated wire is a must. If a wire is on snow you can use either as snow in an insulator. If a wire is up in the air and away from anything conductive you can use either type. If up in the air and near or touching anything conductive you must use coated/insulated wire. If you live in areas that are subject to bad weather especially high winds or ice storms heavier gauge wire should be used so it can with stand the elements. OK now go out and put up something. Experimenting is half the fun in this hobby. TIP 1 A very long time radio guy here. I started life as a SWL when I was about 6 years old (in my 50snow). I still love SWL over talking with others, but sadly the golden age is gone. I still listen to the few stations that are around. I have been a Ham for almost 20 years antennas have been one of favorite things to experiment with. There is a pretty new wire on the market it is called poly-stealth wire. This wire is insulated and very strong. I have seen antennas made from this wire in 13 gauge. I wish I had some of this when making SWL antennas years ago. The stuff is hard to see once it is deployed. Al KC7JNJ
TIP 2 I should also mention that I use a good silicone seal on all my connections. 3M makes a very good clear calk, spreads nicely, and really seals out the moisture No moisture, no corrosion. I have taken down antennas that have been up 5 years before a storm got them, and the connections were just as new and shiny as the day I put them up. Everything else was weathered, but not my connections. Just thought I would pass it on for trouble free connections. . KC0VEA
TIP 2 Noting your comment about using any type of wire, I have made an excellent long-wire antenna with the use of a 30 meter plastic coated steel washing line and they had them in different (bright) colours... It has great strength, is weather proof and only cost me £1.99 from my local market in Birmingham England UK. John Chown
How USA wire gauge correspond to metric wire measurements. Wire Dia. Dia. gauge mm. in. ----- ---- ---- 0 8.251 .3249 1 7.348 .2893 2 6.544 .2576 3 5.827 .2294 4 5.189 .2043 5 4.621 .1819 6 4.116 .1620 7 3.665 .1443 8 3.264 .1288 9 2.906 .1144 10 2.588 .1019 11 2.305 .0907 12 2.053 .0808 13 1.828 .0720 14 1.628 .0641 15 1.450 .0571 16 1.291 .0508 17 1.150 .0543 18 1.024 .0403 19 .9116 .0359 20 .8118 .0320
Life span of an antenna...one man's joking opinion: Well, generally it depends on hours spent listening. The antenna converts electro-magnetic energy into electrical energy, which is basically electrons moving into your radio. There are only so many electrons in each inch of copper wire, so when they've been sent downstream into your radio, the wire will become "ionized" and deteriorate and probably fall down. This explains why, when you come home one day, your antenna is on the ground (see below). What happens to all those electrons, you ask. Well, they migrate into your radio and accumulate. In older tube radios, there was a "grid leak" resistor circuit which allowed the electrons to fall on the ground. Now you can't see them, but they're there. As more pile up, they slide into your back yard. Tube radios, because of the "grid leak" last a lot longer than solid state radios, which stop working when enough electrons have piled up inside to short it out. Now those electrons in your back yard want to get back into the copper wire, so they "pull" the antenna down to be re-united with it. Since the antenna is high, and they're on the ground, this attraction is not strong, but on a windy day, the electrons get lifted from the ground towards the antenna, pulling it down again. The wind often brings in free electrons from your neighbor's homes (from TVs, etc), so there may be a lot of these things around. If too many electrons get lifted up all at once, they overload the antenna, causing a heat mark, or worse getting back into the radio. Now this is why your antenna usually falls down on windy days. At least, that's how I understand it. You can extend the life of your antenna by disconnecting it from your radio when you're not listening. But overall, 500 to 1000 hours spent listening will do in a longwire antenna. It a joke OK!!!
Remember On A Clear Day You Can Hear Forever