Solarcon A-99 Antenna Review
When your 16 year old neighbor buys an old Navaho base station and asks you (the local CB guru of the block) what would be a good, cheap, starter antenna for him, you suggest the A99.
This same scenario has been played out in different variations thousands of times over the years. At some point almost everyone who has been involved in CB radio has owned an A99 or suggested one to a friend.
The A99 is the antenna of choice for first timers and is used by many old timers on a daily basis. Many people have complained about this antenna being poorly made, yet it still continues to be widely popular. It’s a simple design and perhaps one of the best selling and most commonly used citizen band base station antennas ever.
The A99 antenna originally was manufactured and sold under the “Antron” brand name. These days the antenna is built and sold by “Solarcon”. The Solarcon A99 is a half wave over a quarter wave variable mutual inductance antenna designed for use on the 11 meter CB band. This antenna is often advertised as having a dBi gain of 9.9 which I believe to be highly exaggerated. Many people have done thorough testing and examinations of this antenna and have determined that the claim of 9.9 dBi is not accurate.
Probably the best examination of this antenna was done by Tech 833 and was documented in his well known article “The Antron 99 EXPOSED!”. In this review he actually took apart the A99 and displayed all of the individual components of the antenna for everyone to see. To better understand how the A99 functions and how it is made this article is a great read.
But in our article we’re not doing a review of the A99, we want to talk about why this antenna is so popular among CBer’s and is even touted by many Hams.
PUTTING UP AN ANTENNA
Buying a CB radio and plugging it into the wall isn’t too difficult. Running coax along a wall and out a window or a small hole isn’t a very tough task either. The real work when setting up your base station takes place when you have to install your base station antenna.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons the A99 has become a favorite beginner antenna and also popular with those who don’t have the time to install an antenna tower or other more complicated antenna mounts or systems.
The A99 is roughly 18’ feet long and is made of 3 fiberglass sections which screw together. Inside the shell the actual radiating element of the antenna is just a 16 awg wire.
Its internal design has been described as cheap but this is no way effects its durability. A99 antennas are known to last 10 years or more with little or no ill effects to weather, rain, or cold temperatures. There are of course cases where people have had problems with the quality, but in general the antenna is very durable and long lasting.
The A99 comes with a mounting system that easily attaches to a pole or piece of wood. If you don’t decide to use the provided mounting system I’ve heard of many people using clamps, bungee cords or other simple ways of securing the antenna in place.
Because of its design it has a very high angle of radiation. In most cases if you had a vertical antenna mounted 30-40’ feet in the air this would not be a desired radiation pattern. But most people who buy A99 antennas aren’t mounting them on top of towers or in high locations. As mentioned before most people buying these antennas are beginners or people who just need a cheap, easy to assemble and mount antenna for their base station. Because of these factors you’ll most often see A99 antennas mounted on the side of a house, or off of a back porch or deck, or maybe in a small tree. In many installations the base of the antenna is mounted no higher than 10 feet off of the ground.
With most antennas you want to mount them as high as possible, but because of the A99’s high angle of radiation it still performs very well when mounted at low heights.
Now other antennas of better quality and performance will easily outperform the A99 at pretty much any height, but there are few available that are as cheap, simple, and easy to mount as the A99.
The A99 has a tuning system consisting of two rings that can be moved to adjust SWR. In my experiences these rings really did not do much to affect SWR but that didn’t really matter as most A99’s will tune for less than a 1.5 SWR straight out of the box. While none of my A99 antennas ever achieved a flat 1.1 SWR most were able to achieve a 1.2 to 1.3.
Easy to mount, easy to tune, and very durable. So far the case for the A99 is pretty strong.
WHAT ABOUT PERFORMANCE?
Anyone who has owned a A99 and later switched to a 5/8 wave antenna or a beam antenna will tell you that the A99 doesn’t even come close to performing as well as the latter two. But what they will also tell you is that for the price, size, and simplicity the A99 works surprisingly well.
I’ve never talked to anyone who said the A99 did not perform well for TX or RX. Many people have told me that later they upgraded to a better antenna, but they always maintained that the A99 did an admirable job. This for me has always proved true as well.
I’ve owned two A99 antennas, one made by Antron and the later Solarcon produced model. One of the antennas was mounted in a tree at a height around 70’ and with a small 4 watt Sears Roadtalker Base Radio I was able to talk anywhere within 30 miles without difficulty. I talked skip on a regular basis from Washington to California receiving great reports.
The other A99 that I used recently was mounted 8 feet off of the ground and attached to a fencepost. I wasn’t expecting much, but the antenna allowed me to talk locally for 20 miles with a stock radio and shoot skip when conditions were favorable.
Both antennas performed flawlessly, allowing me to hear all of the local stations without difficulty and transmitting my signal well enough to be heard on the other end.
Two different A99’s antennas, two different scenarios and mounting locations and in both instances the antenna did the basic task for which it was designed.
Yes, so far I’ve made this antenna sounds like the golden egg, but it’s not without faults and some of them can be a big problem.
This antenna is bad for bleed over. In fact of any antenna I’ve ever used it’s the worst. If mounted low to the ground the signal will find its way into your TV, stereo, phone and computer speakers. I have done grounding for one of these antennas to the very best of my ability and it still did not eliminate the bleed over going into my neighbors baby monitor.
If you decide to run power through this antenna in excess of the legal limit I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to see some form of bleed over in your own home and probably also in any homes nearby.
On the topic of power, this antenna is rated by the manufacturer to handle 2000 watts of power. I would never suggest to anyone to try to prove that claim. The largest amount of power I would ever put through this antenna would be 300 watts.
If someone were to run 2000 watts for extended periods of time through one of these antennas I doubt the antenna would last very long. As with the dB gain claims, I think the power handling claims should be taken with a grain of salt.
The last problem I’m aware of with these antennas is that they are reports of shorts occurring in the different sections on occasion resulting in a noticeable increase in SWR.
In spite of the problems one might encounter while using an A99, the real factor as to why these antennas are so popular is undoubtedly the price. I’ve seen these antennas priced as low as $49.90 on eBay not including shipping. At a local CB shop I bought one for $65 + tax. They are one of the least expensive base antennas available.
Often people who are new to the hobby don’t want to spend a lot of money and so the price range of the A99 is no doubt appealing. In addition most used base CB radios can be purchased for under $100 and many people (even experienced CB operators) may not want to blow a whole lot of money on an antenna so they can talk on a $50 CB radio to their friends 5 miles away.
The cheap price also comes into play for Ham radio operators looking for an antenna they can use on 10 and 12 meters. The A99 is broad banded enough where it can do a basic job of transmitting in both of these bands. Many ham radio operators have already invested in antennas for multiple bands and don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for another antenna. The A99 has proved to be very versatile and although many Hams agree that it doesn’t compare to more expensive antennas, for the price it performs very well.
People will complain that its parts are cheap, or that its design is inefficient. They’ll say that the claims by Solarcon of 9.9 dBi gain are over inflated and misleading.
But the A99 keeps working and CB radio operators new and old keep buying them and using them.
We all would love to have a professional looking tower with a 8 element beam with rotor; but the truth is that very few of us have the time or money. The A99 is inexpensive and simple. It fills a niche and does it well, and no one can dispute that claim.
* I made an inquiry to the makers of the A99 and here was the response from their company president *
The A99 was originally designed and invented by Don Wells. It used a patented tuning technology (the tuning rings) which Mr. Wells already held a patent on. The tuning ring patent was first used on the Solarcon VMT mobile antennas; also call Adjust-A-Match antennas when sold under other brands.
The A99 was manufactured by Don at his company Solarcon in Holland, Ohio . He had a partner who had his own company called Antron. That company did the marketing for the antennas and it’s original name was the Antron99.
Don and his partner had a falling out and they went there separate ways. As part of that settlement Don could no longer use the Antron name and so the antenna became the Solarcon A99. That was sometime in the 80’s.
I came to work for Solarcon as VP operations around 1992 and left in 1995. Don passed away in 1998 and at that time I purchased Solarcon. The legal company name at that time became Tencom Ltd. and Solarcon was the brand name for our CB antennas.
In 2005 Tencom sold the exclusive North American Distribution rights of all Solarcon Antennas to DAS distributors. We still manufacture the Solarcon Antenna line for DAS.
In fact our manufacturing operation is still located in Holland , Ohio in the same buildings that Don originally built the A-99 in all those years ago.
There have been no major design changes to the A-99 since it was first introduced.
Don’s old partner did years later start new antenna company called Anttron (two T’s) which is now gone again.