TV Antennae

We stopped getting cable soon after we moved in---the many channels afforded little of quality. However, we observed an increasing, though still small, cadre of people who had also given up on cable, and a larger number who expressed great dissatisfaction with its offerings.

With the knowledge that there is good stuff out there, and the desire to have stuff like Sesame Street for Meri, we decided to see what could be had from the air.

The Antenna consists of a 10' pole ($5), an 8-bay, bow-tie, UHF array ($49), a weatherproof masthead preamp with UHF and VHF inputs and a 2dB noise figure ($65), and a high-band VHF Yagi ($25). There is also some cable ($20). This is all mounted on the Western chimney, easily accessible from the balcony across the rumpus-room roof. With hindsight I feel that the 4-bow-tie option ($19) would be just as effective as the 8, and if I was building it myself a reflectored dipole tuned to KQED in SF would be my choice for the VHF part, but the 10-element Yagi is all that is commonly available and they are not very expensive. Total cost: 4 to 8 months of cable connectivity. Worth every penny.

You can see the amplifier, to the rear of the reflector screen of the UHF section, the small dark box. This is a key component ensuring the best possible reception. We are what is termed "deepest fringe" as far as stations based in SF are concerned, meaning that we are lucky if we get any receprion at all. Transmission if from Twin Peaks, in San Francisco.

Indeed, I did not expect to get KQED on channel 9 (channels 7-13 are Hi-band VHF, above that is UHF) because it is based in SF and about 100km away, and we are behind a hill, and the telegraph poles form a perfect antenna-height blockade 20 feet to the South. However, when Kent and I were fooling about with the UHF part, conducting a four-quadrant, all-channel survey from the balcony, I could see signal from KQED! In the end, reception was even better at the chimney compared to the balcony, still through the UHF, so I expanded to the VHF as well.

In the end, we get perfect channel 22, KRCB, the local PBS station. (PBS is the equivalent in the USA of the ABC in Australia or the BBC in the UK, though it is not by any means wholly funded by the government.) We get good KQED, though it is susceptible to interference in the form of coherent noise spikes seen as sparse snow, and occasional herring-bone patterns. We also get several marketing channels, two Spanish, one Cantonese, and one Arabic channel, plus some commercial channels, from memory 7 from SF, and on UHF a WB affiliate and another I have not identified that shows a lot of Simpsons reruns.

The antennae are visible from the road, though they are not conspicuous. I recall living in Bronte in Sydney as a small child, and remarking upon the skyline dominated by TV masts, each rising tens of feet above the top of the roofline. Bronte was, as the expression goes, "in a hole". Worse, it was a beach suburb, and everything corroded. Telephones (made of bakelite) were always slimy from the solt in the air, light switches tingled, bicycles and tricycles and scooters disintegrated in a few short years, and TV antennae needed frequent maintenance.