Can an antenna “go bad?”

You’ve heard a story like this once or twice. Maybe it’s happened to you. You’re watching TV and suddenly, no reception. You replace the antenna and you’re back in business. So, can an antenna “just go bad” like that? Well, not exactly… but yes there are things on an antenna that can actually stop working. When that happens, you generally need a new antenna.

Antennas are actually pretty simple

An antenna is a remarkably simple thing. It’s usually just some variation on a metal stick. The stick has to be a particular length, and sometimes the stick is bent in on itself to form a loop, and sometimes it’s got other sticks attached to it that help focus more radio waves, but when all is said and done, an antenna is really just a stick.

However…

the way that the signals are caught by that stick aren’t terribly good for putting over coaxial cable. You might remember that TV antennas used to come with flat cable, and now they come with round coaxial cable. Antenna signals can travel over the coaxial cable because there’s a little piece of electronic trickery on the antenna that converts the signal from balanced, 300 ohm to unbalanced, 75 ohm. We call that doodad a BalUn (or balun). Haven’t you ever wondered why it’s called that? Now you know.

Old-school folks will tell you that the 300 ohm cable is actually better for antenna signals. They’re not wrong. Coaxial cable can be a bit of overkill for antenna signals. It provides extra shielding and durability, but not necessarily better signal propagation. Still, it’s the standard now and it’s been so for decades.

Using coax cable means a balun. And baluns go bad.

That balun is often the thing that goes bad. It’s pretty durable and works well, but most baluns are simply printed circuit boards and with enough hot and cold weather, they can crack. At the same time, some of the wiring that connects parts of the antenna together or connects to the balun can crack. At the same time, gravity can take its toll, elements can droop, plastic pieces can deteriorate, and if the antenna is in a housing like the one you see, even rust stains caused by hard water can make the antenna less effective. Nothing lasts forever.

Sometimes it’s easy to find the problem. Sometimes it’s obviously a corroded connector or a cracked piece of plastic. Look, sometimes everything can look great and yet it still doesn’t work. It’s hard to know what’s going on, it’s hard to know what to look for. You should never rule out the possibility that it’s not the antenna at all, but it’s the cable. Cables don’t last forever either… sometimes they crack inside or wear due to the effects of weather on the delicate materials inside. Sometimes water gets into a connection and corrodes it inside.

If you feel like your antenna has gone bad, look for the obvious things, but at some point you have to simply admit that nothing lasts forever and shop for a new antenna at SolidSignal.com.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.