Geezer vs. Weakling: Antenna Showdown, Part 1

Can an antenna made in the Summer of Love beat one of our least expensive outdoor antennas?

The year is 1968. A young family moves into a brand new upscale subdivision. As soon as the weather is clear enough for a trip to the roof, the father erects the latest and greatest roof-mounted antenna he can get his hands on. This antenna is designed for 30-45 mile range, and it was designed to give a lifetime of good service, back when over-the-air was all you could get.

Flash forward 44 years. It’s now 2012 and I’m the owner of that same home. The antenna’s still up there, and I’ve been using it for HDTV for the last six years or so. When I bought the house, the antenna was disconnected. I made a project out of connecting it as cheaply as possible.


It cost about $1.50 in parts to get this old antenna working again.

Knowing that I had a 300 ohm flat cable coming from the antenna going into the attic, and some old cable company wire going from the attic into the house, I bought a piece similar to this one. I think I paid $1.50 at Rite Aid. I made the connection just under the eave so I could get at it easier. My DIRECTV installer helped me with a nice new compression connector. That was 6 years ago and the connector has corroded a little bit, but the system still works.

I set out to inspect this old “geezer” antenna to see how it’s held up, and to see if I could learn more about it.


The antenna is in pretty good shape, considering.

I was surprised to encounter plastic parts on an antenna this age. I’m told that it’s possible that Channel Master was using plastic at this point, so I continue. The elements look like they are all fairly straight, although the antenna overall has a layer of black corrosion on it.

I began to wonder if my antenna was really as old as I thought. Those plastic parts had me thinking. So I decided to look at the other parts of the antenna and what drew my attention was the connection point between the antenna and the wire.


If you look carefully you can see where the wire attaches to the antenna.

As I said, the antenna wire coming from the antenna is 300 ohms. It looks to be the same age as the antenna. An RF engineer told me that 300 ohm wire was used because it comes close to matching the electrical impedance of the actual antenna. However, my friends at Solid Signal told me that in the 1970s the whole industry started putting transformers on the antennas so that the line coming from them was 75 ohms, like modern cable TV line. So, it makes sense that this antenna was actually the one from the late 1960s.

Looking at the rest of the antenna, I see some rust in the mount, though.


The antenna is strapped firmly to the chimney, but there’s a lot of rust there.

The good news is, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. The bad news is, if I ever want it to go somewhere I’ll probably need tinsnips or an angle grinder. That thing’s solid. They built it to last. There’s one odd thing though, it’s rotated 90° away from where it should be. That’s kind of weird.

Performance

The measurements on a signal meter are nice, but what really matters to me is real world performance. I hooked this antiquated beast to my brand new television and here are the results:

According to the FCC I should get 26 stations clearly. I get 22 clearly, with interference on two more. One is very intermittent and the one I don’t get is actually the one that the antenna is pointed at. Go figure. I think there’s a line of sight issue though, because there are some hills between me and that last one.

Not bad for an old geezer.

In part two of this series, I’ll test the Winegard HD1080, which is a fairly low-priced antenna provided by my friends at Solid Signal. I’ll be temporarily mounting it as high as possible and connecting it to the TV with 50 feet of brand new Solid Signal brand cable. I want to see if this “weakling” holds up to the same quality as the old geezer.

Should be interesting!