Beer Can Antenna

By Jack Williams

Ed. Note -- In recent years it has become politically correct to recycle things that were originally put in land fills. This story, while a bit "techy" shows that this effort was being made in the mid 1950's before anybody even considered recycling let alone passed laws enforcing it.

[How “antenna” became spelled with a pee. This is from an article in the Greensboro (NC) Daily News, Sunday, 5 February 1956. CWO-4 Eddie Brichta (Ret.) now uses call sign W6RSY.]

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. Feb. 4—“Beer Can II” is on the air! Eddie Brichta quiets his key and listens.

A reply is heard, “station W4BNX, you are burping in loud and clear.”

Brichta’s eyes brighten with pixie fiendishness. He is giving some distant ham a cheap drunk.

After a few moments of clever bantering, Brictha, by remote control, switches his antenna from 3-½ to 7 megacycles. Later in the evening he operates on 14 megacycles.

To the layman this means absolutely nothing, but to the ham radio operators this is the often dreamed of but hitherto unaccomplished ideal, namely, a stack of beer cans serving as a broad band antenna. That, the lay can understand . . . partly.

Surpasses Fondest Hopes

    Succeeding where others have failed, Eddie Brichta, a 50-year-old U.S. Coast Guard chief radio technician of Elizabeth City, has surpassed even the fondest hopes of other hams.

Not only has he completed a 47-foot beer can antenna and operated it on three bands where others have tried only one, Eddie now has contacted some of the most remote stations of the world, stations which he could not work with his standard Windom antenna.

Enthusiastic neighbor, Kent Overman, a radar expert, operating Station W4VKG, calls Brichta’s station the “Brewer’s National X-Change.

Others ask Brichta, “What is your favorite brand,” or “How long did it take you to drink those 90 cans of beer?”

It Looks Like a Trend

    Joe Singer of Santa Monica, Calif., writes that he showed snapshots of Beer Can II to “millions of ham friends,” so it looks like Brichta has started a new trend in simple, inexpensive antennas. And probably all the “millions of hams” will go out on a colossal drunk in the pretext of constructing their own beer can antenna.

Eddie Brichta is not much of a beer drinker himself. He had enough friends to take the hint of getting a jag on to save the empties.

When Eddie first suggested turning his backyard into a “beer garden” his wife Dora thought he was joking, but when he soldered beer cans together until they started coming out of the living room window, she began to wish he’d have more duty nights as assistant electronics officer at the USCG Aircraft Repair and Supply Base.

Many at first were in doubt; just as many are still puzzled at Brichta’s success. Clever Gus Karalow, a chief aviation electronics technician, and Bill Singletary, CAA station supervisor, had tried earlier but lacked the precise technique.

Scatter That Beer

    Still, they and other members of the Elizabeth City Radio Club encouraged Eddie to try to “scatter beer fumes to the four corners of the earth.”

To his chief adversary, XYL (wives are coded, EX-Young Ladies), the project looked like just some more of his 38 years of “electrical messing” but the five-foot dynamo with the roar of a lion is a man for whom challenges were made. He has already “Worked All States” (WAS) from the East Coast and plans to WAS and “WAC” (Worked All Continents) when he is transferred to San Francisco this spring.

When he retires and settles in Mill Brae, Calif., in April, 1957, Eddie may try to “Work All Planets.” What’s stopping him?

To get under way with his project, in March, 1955, Brichta selected 60 king size and 30 regular size cans of various beers, made dies to cut guide holes for a line of ¼-inch coaxial cable, strung the cans and soldered them end to end.

Cable Is Insulated

    The coaxial cable is simply a wire in the center of an insulated cover and the field around the outside is the axis of the cable. Both conductors are used to determine characteristic surge impedance, therefore transmitting power without appreciable loss.

The beer can “purpose,” which is not exactly a new idea, is the system planned for a very desirable “broad band antenna,” which gives more range of operation than commercial radio bands and permits broader tuning over the entire band without excessive loss of efficiency.

Brichta’s antenna was reinforced with welding rod tacked on the outside at three points of the compass. The “canned” length of the antenna, 43 feet, was joined at the bottom to a four-foot fiber rod, two inches in diameter. This serves as an insulator for standing the antenna off the ground.

    A system of radials at the juncture limits variations in characteristics of this “vertical ground plane” antenna. (The ground plane is often buried, but Brichta had the space to set his three feet above ground.) Every 11 feet up the antenna’s 12 guy wires, made of plastic clothes lines, brace the stack in three directions.

First Try — Disaster

    During his ambitious one-man installation, June 1, Brichta frantically called for help but his wife’s assistance was of no avail and “Beer Can I” crumpled and fell.

    Immediately “Beer Can II” was started and Gus Karalow helped raise it August 13.

Daughter Dolores, 12, brought out the station flag she made from a pillow cover, son Paul, 8, raised the flag along with the Stars and Stripes, daughter Vera, 9, did cartwheels, and wife, Dora, “gave thanks to Heaven above.”

“Beer Can II” has been in operation ever since, weathering all the unwelcome hurricanes that detoured through Elizabeth City last year. The old Windom horizontal antenna (137 ft. TV line, 35 ft. high) is now the receiving antenna.

The tuning unit at the base of “Beer Can II” is Brichta’s own design, containing three circuits and three relays for cutting (or connecting) in or out as desired. These are controlled from the house, 70 feet away, through underground coaxial cable, power supplied by selenium rectifiers.

Works Most Of Europe

Brichta, already has worked most of the European countries except those behind the Iron Curtain. He has reached the British Isles, islands of the Mediterranean, St. Pierre and Miquelon Islands in North America and he has heard a strange chirp “which might be from Mars or from the parakeet in the kitchen.”

Responding groggily to Eddie’s messages other hams usually reply, “What, burp, excuse please, ees theese vertical antenna, Beer Cawn, zee zecond?”

More than 100,000 hams will get the tin can blues before long. Boiling it down to the lowest common denominator, it simply proves the old challenging Brichta adage, “Don’t tell me there isn’t something in empty beer cans!”


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