A customer wrote to us recently with this idea:
I want to get faraway TV stations but I don’t want to put up a tall tower. What if I built a kite in the shape of an antenna, covered it in foil, and flew it up high? I could run a wire down to the house and into the TV.
First of all I’m compelled to say that this would probably work. As long as there was enough wind to get that kite up there for a while, you’d probably get decent reception. The kite would be up high enough to get a clear view of the broadcast towers. It would be a little hard keeping it aimed but I could imagine scenarios where it could work. The hardest trick would be construction, because you’d need everything to be super-light. But I cannot imagine it would be impossible.
However, I have to say in the strongest possible tone that you should not do this. This is an insanely bad idea. There is an excellent chance this could kill you.
Here’s the real story
When you get up even a few hundred feet, you are dealing with weather patterns that you don’t have on the ground. It could be a lot windier there. The air could be highly ionized and you’d never know it. And what you’re doing is essentially creating a lightning rod. Except instead of a safe path into the ground, you’re running a wire into your house. Oh, and one more thing. Kites don’t stay in one place by themselves. The other end of the kite string has a fairly delicate human on the end, who is definitely not going to survive a strong electrical discharge.
The myth of Benjamin Franklin
We are all taught how, in 1752, Benjamin Franklin was able to prove the link between lightning and electricity by flying a kite during a storm. Electrically charged air traveled down the wet kite string and into a capacitor, proving that electricity in the air acted similarly to static electricity produced on the ground.
What we don’t tend to remember is that at least three people died trying to replicate this experiment. In fact, it’s incredibly surprising that Franklin didn’t die.
So before pointing out that Franklin flew a kite and essentially pulled electricity from the air 300 years ago, it’s important to remember that this sort of thing is super dangerous and something you should absolutely not do.
So what should you do?
If you are really serious about distant over-the-air stations, putting up a properly-grounded tower is a good idea. If that seems like too much work, go to the station’s web site. Chances are they have a live feed you can get that way. There are even options for having someone else get the feed at their house and streaming it privately to you. Whatever you choose, please please don’t fly a kite to try to get better reception. You’re much better off shopping for what you need at Solid Signal.