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Assembling old-school antenna for TV purposes

Family members put together equipment for free digital television

POSTED: May 6, 2014 1:00 a.m.

“Be careful. Don’t poke your eye out,” the deep fatherly voice said from across the small living room. “And don’t poke your sister’s eye out, either!”

Most fathers have said these words at some point in their life to their young children who were using sticks as swords and pretending to be pirates. But a father using his cautionary tone on his two 30-plus-year-old children as they worked on a home improvement project is probably an unusual occurrence.

My brother, Dennis, looked up and grinned. Then he bent his head over a large antenna and continued working. My younger sibling was intent on the task at hand: constructing and installing a digital TV antenna in my home.

The project to construct this monstrosity with its fine points and sharp edges in my small townhouse in Gainesville started Easter weekend.

You see, I have lacked cable television since I moved to Gainesville more than a year ago. It was too expensive following my move.

According to DISH TV (my service in Florida), it would have cost $50 to keep the plan. But to disconnect it, move it to Georgia and reinstall, the cost was more than $100. To start a new plan here, cost estimates from AT&T or Charter were about the same.

So, I joined the growing number of residents who no longer subscribe to cable. Instead, I stream shows and movies via Netflix for $7.99 a month or watch live TV via my laptop computer for free. According to the Television Bureau of Advertising, just 10.3 percent of homes nationwide are watching free over-the-air television.

But after missing 2014 Winter Olympics coverage, I decided to invest in an old-school antenna at my father’s suggestion.

Sure, I could have installed it by myself. But I had visions of accidentally electrocuting myself if I attempted the task alone. So I waited for my family and we tackled the problem together.

Step 1: Determine the size of antenna needed for a clear reception and keep it within a $100 budget for equipment.

I wanted a small antenna since I rent. Plus, those antennas were the least expensive. However, my brother and I purchased the 40-mile and 60-mile range outdoor antennas as well to see which one worked best.

Step 2: Read the instructions, assemble the antennas and attach them to the television.

The small, flat multidirectional antenna required no assembly. My brother took it out of the box and plugged it into the television. He programmed it to scan for stations. The readout said it picked up some channels, but there was no picture.

The two outdoor antennas took time.

The 40-mile range seemed easy enough and cost close to $60. My brother unfolded it, ran the wire through the included pole to the TV and tested the reception.

The reception was decent with access to ABC, FOX and CW along with 20 more channels. But the picture paused or skipped.

The 60-mile-range electrical unit took much longer. Unfolding the appendages did not take long, but screws and bolts were involved. After at least an hour, the antenna stood about 5« feet tall and looked like “a decepticon from the ‘Transformers’ movie,” my brother said.

My brother and father then moved the largest and most expensive piece of equipment (almost $100) around my deck as I watched the signal strength. The best spot was in the middle of the deck.

Another quick scan revealed the antenna was receiving 27 channels — the same as the 40-mile-range antenna. The difference was the reception. It was a lot better with fewer pauses and skips. We found a winner.

Step 3: Secure the antenna and ground the line to a source.

My brother and father used screws, clamps and a pole to secure the antenna in its place. Then my brother grounded the lines to my outside electrical outlet.

“That will keep your TV from getting fried if lightning strikes the pole,” my father said.

Step 4: Tweak the position and repeat a scan.

“Point the alligator side that way,” Dennis said, pointing southwest.

The alligator side described two pieces resembling an alligator with its mouth open and tongue sticking out. The signal strength was strong and the clamps were tightened.

One final scan led to 27 channels including ABC, FOX, Get TV, MeTV, four Spanish-speaking channels, two shopping channels and three religious channels.

After all of the moving and adjusting, the three of us were left unscathed with no one losing an eye.


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