The ZS6BKW Multiband HF Antenna

The ZS6BKW Multiband HF Antenna

This is the antenna for you guys who want to get on HF effectively, and haven’t too much space or cash to throw around. Actually, it’s a design from ZS6BKW (aka G0GSF), similar to the G5RV, but it actually resonates on five bands, (well 6, actually) and doesn’t rely on a tuner (ATU) to make it work. The design appeared in TT (RadCom) Jan & Feb 1993, but is also in Pat Hawker’s “Antenna Topics” (publ. RSGB 2002) It’s only 90 ft long (27.51 metres), with a 40 ft (12.2 m) downlead.

ZS6BKW

Horizontal or inverted V layout

So, it’s a cousin to the G5RV (which only resonates on 14 & 24 MHz), but better as it needs no ATU on 40, 20, 17, 12, 10 and 6 metres.

When Telford DARS were doing the 50MHz Trophy contest down at Bridgnorth, I took the necessary bits along to try out this antenna. For simplicity, I set it up as an inverted-vee configuration. The reason was simple – you only need one support to hold it up, not two. I also had the club’s MFJ Antenna Analyser with me so that I could see what was happening. I recorded the data – see below.

Incidentally, all centre fed antennas can be supported by just one mast, with the ends left to droop down. The ‘rule of thumb’ is that the angle at the apex should never be less than 90 deg, otherwise cancellation between the two halves occurs. Furthermore, as it is the current peaks along an antenna that do most of the radiation, having the centre at the highest point is a positive advantage, rather than supported at each end with a big droop at the centre (current point nearest to ground). This is another reason for not being too fussy about the ends of a centre-fed antenna being lower, or bent around. It will have minimal effect on radiation efficiency. The only thing is never have the ends dropping right down to ground level – because the ground will seriously de-tune the antenna and it will not work – believe me, I’ve tried it. Just a yard or so off the deck makes all the difference. Simply have end insulators (or plastic strips etc), then wire or twine to the tying-off points. This effectively raises the ends of the antenna sufficiently clear of the ground. So, the ‘BKW can be horizontal (two supports) or inverted-vee layout (single support), as shown. Incidentally, the same applies to a simple dipole.

The antenna wire can be solid copper, stranded, insulated or not. A lot of rubbish is printed about the merits or otherwise of different sorts of wire. It’s largely hogwash. Wire is wire at these frequencies. Wet string? well that’s a different matter.

The ZS6BKW Multiband HF Antenna

In the original design, 300 ohm twin was used, but I prefer the 450 ohm stuff. It’s much stronger and losses, especially in wet weather, are lower when impedances are high down the line. Back in 1985, 450 twin wasn’t readily available, there was only 75 and 300 twin, or the option of making your own open-wire feeders (which actually are the best of all – around 600 ohm, but these do tend to twist or get caught in trees etc! Yes – bitter experience and soldered joints here too!)

Finally, if you want to use it on other HF bands (3.5, 10, 21 MHz), an ATU (just like at the bottom of your ‘5RV!) will do the business, but preferably at the bottom of the 450 ohm feeder with a balanced output, not after a length of 50 ohm coax, if you’ve had to use it to reach your rig. Of course for 1.8 MHz (160m), you could short out the feeder twin, and feed it like a Marconi antenna, with a suitable ATU. Not very clever, however.

Here are the MFJ figures I recorded on the test antenna:-

Best in-band frequency:                    SWR               “R” at feedpoint          Notes

3.38 MHz (80m)                                   7:1                          20                           tunes easily with ATU

7.00 MHz (40 m)                                  1:1                          40                           puurrfect

10.1 MHz (30 m)                                  high                        high                       needs atu

14.06 MHz (20 m)                               1:1                          40                           wonderful

17.85 MHz (17 m)                               1:1                          50                           below 1.3:1 in 18MHz band

21.00 MHz (15m)                                high                        high                        needs atu

24.69 MHz (12 m)                               2:1                          100                         OK, even without an ATU

28.62 MHz (10 m)                               1.3:1                       60                           No sweat!

50.27 MHz (6 m)                                  1.3:1                       60                           A surprise: 6m. too!

Just to show the “proof in the pudding”, I used it on 7 and 14 MHz, and got excellent reports, as one would expect with a half-decent antenna! Didn’t have time to use it on all bands, but I leave that to you (to tell everyone how good it is).

Martyn Vincent G3UKV

Kevin VK2FUO advises to put a 1 to 1 current balun on the ZS6BKW antenna 450 ohm feeder line where it joins the 50 ohm coax to the radio.

VK2FUO acknowledges author Martyn G3UKV

33 comments

  • Wayne

    Hi in the diagram it’s 93.60 ft long and the feeder is 39.1 ft long. But in your article it’s 90ft long and the feeder is 40 ft. ???? Can you please clarify

  • In the above table of SWR and resistance is the “R” the resistance where the flat top reaches the 450 ohm line?
    Thanks and 73,
    Pete
    WB2UAQ

  • kbell101

    Yes, please. How long for each?

  • Nigel

    Wayne. Please read carefully. The 90 and 40 feet he is referring to the design if the antenna around the time when it was first introduced (2002). Use the dimensions in the diagram.

  • Dave

    Can the matching section make a horizontal dogleg for part of the 39.1 feet?

  • john sickles

    the 1:1 balun sure makes a big difference in how this antenna works!
    i built a larger version 204 ft. long with 64 ft. of ladder line.works great on 160 mtrs at 65 ft in the air as a flat top.

  • Phil

    I just got this antenna on the air today, using the dimensions described above, or very close to them. I promptly worked two Russians and a Slovenia station with 55 an 57 reports. And, I have an S7 noise level. One end of the antenna is about 35 feet high, the center about 25 feet, and the other end, maybe 20 feet high. So far I’m really happy with this antenna.

    On 40 and 20, (my main interest) the lowest SWR occurs at the bottom of the band (7.0 and 14.0 mhz). I would like to move the SWR low points nearer the center of the respective band. Obviously, I can trim the flat top portions. But would raising the antenna and/or adjusting the 450 ohm matching section accomplish the same thing?

  • Lou

    I have the same question as Phil. Watching for replies.

  • Joe K7JOE

    Yes, you can easily trim the ladder line to adjust the resonant points higher in the band. You are fairly close to the ground if your center is just 25 ft high. You are getting some ground induced proximity loading which electrically lengthens the antenna and makes it resonate low. My suggestion is to trim the ladder line shorter, in small increments. Try to aim for your favorite band (note that a small adjustment on 7 mhz will have a larger impact on subsequent higher frequencies, eg, 14, 18, 28 etc.

  • joe dotson WI8Y

    people cant follow simple directions!

  • Dale

    If using a clamp-on ferrite for the 1:1 balun, just moving the 1:1 balun would be easier than cutting the ladder line.
    My question, and referring to Dave’s dogleg question, does the ladder line become a vertical radiator? Ideally you would want all the radiation off the dipole sections.

  • There will be essentially no radiation by the open wire feed line if a “good” 1:1 balun or choke (i.e. high impedance) is inserted at the open wire to coax connection. A balun or choke also helps on receive by reducing noise pickup on the open wire feed line.

    The dogleg will require that the choke impedance be larger due to the unbalance introduced by the dogleg. Twisting the open wire line helps the wire balance because it reduces the unbalance caused by the ground and nearby objects.

  • Dave KB8DP

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this antenna on other sites. My question is about the length of the 50ohm line. I’ve seen everything from 70ft to 50ft to as short as possible. What did you have the best results with. When finished it will be flat topped at around 40ft.

  • Joe K9UR

    For the ZS6BKW antenna, the coax feedline length is not critical. unlike the G5RV that relies on the coax for “losses” to reduce SWR on the non-resonant bands (all bands except 14 and 24 mhz),

    the ZS6BKW presents a near 50-ohm R at the junction of the coax to the ladder line.

    So, the coax can be any length that gets you to the shack. Shorter the better, of course, to minimize losses.

    Also remember there is a 1:1 current choke balun at the coax-to-ladder line feedpoint so the coax is not radiating – only carrying RF to the antenna.

  • Dave KC9FLI

    I built a 92 foot ZS6BKW with 40 feet open feeder-(14 ga THHN at 4 inch spacing)- did not have 450 ohm window available. Apex is 40 feet-ends are about 15 feet at approx 120 deg spread. Tried to attach feeder to balanced manual antenna tuner and didn’t tune well at all. Simply soldered 50 ohm coax to feeder line and resonates well on 40,20,17,12. Not 10,15 or 30 at all. Does my wide feedline change things too much-do i need 450? do i need more elevation on the ends? I see i need to add a current balun as well.
    Thanks much

  • Anonymous

    BTW; Un-insulated antenna wire can generate static electricity sparks, (1/8 inch) when struck by dry snow. Not good for receiver front ends.
    de: VE7TNN.

  • Andreas, DJ3EI

    PVC isolated wire (half speaker cord) works well, is easily available and affordable. But it is electrically considerably longer than you think, by as much as 5 %. At least that has been my experience when building humble dipoles and upper+outer antennas.

    So who uses such material should be prepared to shorten. (I fold back the end and wrap it around the active wire, rather than outright cut.)

    I would be interested what wire material you used for the dipole part of your ZS6BKW, Martyn,

    Vy 73, Andreas, DJ3EI

  • Joe

    Dave. The BKW is not designed to work on 15 meters. On 10 meters it usually resonates high in the band – around 28.9 MHz or so. Still adequately low swr on the “low” end of ten meters to use an antenna tuner in the radio etc.

    The dimensions using 600 ohm open wire line are slightly longer than when using 450 ohm feedline due to velocity factor differences. I always shoot for best match on 40M and the other bands fall where they fall.

    Be sure to use a good 1:1 current choke by wrapping RG8X coax wrapped 10-12 turns on. A mix 31 FT-240 torroid donut works great and can handle legal limit.

    The 600 ohm is actually the very best. It doesn’t behave strangely when wet or snow covered.

    I like the BKW in flat top. Versus inverted V. That’s simply due to the signal null and lobes – they are not as pronounced as when mounted in inverted vee .

    For a non- expensive antenna I’ve never found anything that beats a zs6bkw for the money or easy installation and light weight that gives multiple bands so simply /easily and works with no gimmicks

  • Roy kk7hrm

    If you choose the inverted V application does the window wire stay unsupported or can it be strapped towards the bottom of the pole. I am in a high wind area if I need to guy my pole will the guys have an effect on the window wire where it runs by the guys. New at this so trying to learn.

  • Joe K9UR

    Roy, leave the ladder line away from any metalic objects. It should hang down vertically as much as possible.

  • Phil Eastman

    If the ladder line exceeds antenna height, what are the options…..coil, loop, twist, stretch horizontal, etc. to physically shorten the line.

  • Gary

    Just read some of the posts about the antenna. I currently have a sloping center fed dipole with RG8X coax going to a Johnson Viking matchbox tuner and then to my rigs. I use the internal tuner on my Icom 746 also if needed but it usually isn’t. My dipole is 70 feet up in a fir tree on the west end and up 30 feet on the east end on a metal pushup pole. The antenna tunes up fine on 80-6M. Fellow hams recommended I replace the coax with ladder line(which I have a 100 feet to use of stranded #14). And one said to put a common mode choke at the junction of the antenna and ladder line. I’ve made the choke and I have the LL. I get good reports with the antenna as it is. Will changing to LL be worth the work??? Will I have less noise? Thoughts???

  • Joe

    if the ladder line exceeds the height of the antenna, get the antenna higher up!
    If you can’t do that, you can make a very very loose “corkscrew / coil” with the ladder line as it comes down, or a slight S shape back and forth. The diameter of each loop of the corkscrew in the ladder line should be 1 foot or bigger. Coiling up the ladder line or leaving it on the ground is a no-no for this antenna.

    I tried to make one of these using 600 ohm open wire home made line with 4 inch spacing rather than the usual 300 or 450 ohm brown window line. The result: with 600 ohm home brew line, just does not cover 40-20-17-12-10-6 as successfully as does the 450 ohm feeder at 39.5 feet long. The original antenna was optimized for 300 and 450 ohm. Going to 600 ohm was not an advantage in any way.

  • John

    I have 88 feet between my end supports. No center pole yet. A friend made me a ZS6BKW. 92 feet. 39.8 foot ladder line. While I am waiting for help with the center pole, can it sag some in the middle. I have severe back problems and can’t stand for very long. I will probably have ladder line on the ground or close to it. Can it be pulled out to the side some. maybe attach it to a fiberglass pole.

  • Norm

    I’ve played around with the ZS6BKW quite a bit over the years. The biggest criteria for me was the need for a single antenna that would give me as many bands as possible, fit into my back yard and be somewhat stealthy due to HOA restrictions.

    Many folks have asked about routing the 450 ohm window line. I’m in an HOA and have to hide the antenna as much as possible and I don’t have large trees to help. The tallest thing on my property is the apex of my roof which is only about 21′ off the ground and that is where I mounted my home built ZS6BKW. I have a 2′ piece of 1×2 attached horizontally at the apex of my roof. I mounted the center of my antenna to the 1×2 and have the ends of the wire (26 gauge poly-stealth) going down to the edges of my back yard. The center is at 21′ and the ends are around 14′ above ground. The apex of the roof is right above a patio roof, so the 450 ohm window line drops down approximately 8′ then turns horizontal and runs 30′ to the corner of the house, goes around the corner 2′ to my 1:1 balun mounted under the eves. I then have 20′ of LMR400 to the shack. All bends are quite gradual with a radius of maybe 2′ and the window line does not touch anything. It is suspended by very thin but strong rope.

    This antenna has been in the air for nearly 14 years and works great. And to top it off, I run 600 watts thru it all day long without issues. I realize it would work better if it were higher, flatter and made of larger gauge wire but I had to compromise. I guess the point I’m trying to get across is that this antenna is pretty darn forgiving and is a great performer even under terrible installation conditions.

    A few years ago I built a full size 40 meter vertical and laid 60 or so radials down in the back yard. They ranged from 36′ to 12′ due to obstacles. I have an Elecraft KAT500 tuner that supports multiple antennas and lets me rapidly switch between them. I played around comparing the vertical to my ZS6BKW over a several week period. What I found was that the vertical very seldom out performed the horizontal wire antenna on receive and was noisier. On transmit, is where it seemed to be a bit better but usually only by an S unit or less. In the end, I dismantled the vertical, rolled up the 100s of feet of radials and put it away.

    The ZS6BKW is a great performer, quiet, can be hidden if you need it to be and is very forgiving in how it is installed. Just keep that window line away from objects and don’t be hesitant to run it any way you have to in order to get it installed for your situation. It isn’t a radiating part of the antenna, its simply a matching network. My balun is mounted about 10′ from my home entertainment center and I’ve never had a bit of RFI except occasionally thru an old dvd player when on 40m running 500 watts. I eventually upgraded the dvd player and problem was solved.

  • Mark

    I live on the coast of Maine and as such we get our share of wet weather. This has the predictable affect on the 450 ohm ladder line. Has anyone tried 600 ohm ladder line on this antenna?

  • Bill

    I am planning on using this antenna with a fiberglass extendable mast portable. So I would like it to be as light as possible. I have seen dimensions using 300 ohm twin lead. What does the groups say about that?

    My dimensions are 11.2 meters for the twin lean, and 14.05 meters for the dipole.

    thanks de ve3mrx

  • n8vw

    Built this for FD using #26 wire from DXE. Supported with a 10m spiderpole from vibroplex. Worked great. Has anyone thought of paralleling a 15m antenna to make it easier to use on 15m?

  • Joe K9UR

    Mark. 600 ohm line doesn’t work well across all the bands. The zs6bkw requires 300 to 450 ohm line. Fear not. Toss the brown stuff away. Make your own open wire line ! How ? . you can take those 4 inch electric fence plastic spreaders and zip ties that you’re probably using. Cut each of them in half. Now you have a mess of 2 inch spacers. Make the home made open wire line. One spreader every 5 inches keeps the line from twisting — the two inch spacing makes nice 400 ohm line. You’ll need 100 spreaders or so. No big deal. . And it works great. Much much less water induced swr drift when wet versus the brown open wire stuff sold by jsc. mfj. Wireman. Etc etc Once I did this …. Presto. You can use stranded copper wire for ladder line and the elements. Even make it all one piece of wire for better wind survival. Perfect all weather antenna !

  • Phil

    I built my BKW a couple of years ago out of stuff I’ve had laying around for years. The radiating element is #14 non-insulated, stranded wire. Initially, my end supports were too close together, so about 10 feet had to hang straight down. Later, I was able to use a support (tree) further away, so the end no longer hangs down. The balun is a commercial model, but the label is faded so I don’t know what make it is. The distance from the shack to the balun is about 40 feet, but I have about 70 feet of RG-8 coax running to it. I’m soon going to replace the old coax with a shorter run of RG-8X.

    The antenna works great (no tuner needed) on 40, 20, and 17. The other bands can be brought down with the tuner in my TS850. However, I recently installed a 20m inverted V with the apex about 50 feet high. The inverted V beats the BKW almost every time on receive.

    This fall when the leaves are off the trees I’m going to rebuild the BKW with insulated wire, a new home brew balun, and new coax.

  • Buck

    Phil, your question from March of 2021 was well answered in the article. One of the charts showed how the different lengths of ladder line controlled where in the various bands the resonances would occur. Their clever use of a knife switch on the ladder line would enable you to change the length of the ladder line simply by throwing the switch one way or the other.

  • Are there alternative methods or configurations for achieving optimal performance on various HF bands?? Visit Us Telkom University

  • Are there alternative methods or a configurations for achieving optimal performance on various HF bands?? Visit Us Telkom University

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