How can TV antennas be such different shapes?

When you look at this Televes antenna, it’s a little hard to realize it’s an antenna. After all, TV antennas look like this, right?

or at the very least we’ve become accustomed to ones that look like this:

which combine a small “X” shaped antenna with a reflector that lets both the front and back of the antenna be used for reception. But this new antenna looks like a giant USB dongle or something. How could that possibly be a thing?

Let’s explain

At the heart of every antenna, whether it’s rabbit ears, a metal loop, or a large roof-mounted antique, is a dipole. A dipole is basically a piece of metal that receives RF transmissions. It works best when it’s some fraction of the size of the wave it’s trying to pick up. A simple dipole looks like this:

Basically a T-shaped piece of metal. “Rabbit ears” are dipoles, and the reason they’re not always horizontal is that by changing the angle of the “ears” you’re making the dipole “effectively” longer and shorter.

“X” shape or “cat’s whiskers” antennas are essentially two dipoles next to each other designed to compliment each other so you get even better reception.

You’ve probably also seen antennas like this — a loop of metal, sometimes covered in plastic. This is a “folded” or loop dipole, and it’s just a regular dipole where the ends are folded back to connect with each other. The loop design makes it stronger.

The folded dipole is actually the basis for many of the “odd shaped” antennas you’ll find, because what you’re really talking about is a dipole that has extra metal to strengthen it, and it doesn’t have to be a circle. Here’s another example of a folded dipole mounted on a mast:

In this case it’s just a long loop like a racetrack. Cover that in plastic and you begin to get an idea of how an antenna could look like the one at the top of this article.

Then… there’s a yagi antenna.

A yagi antenna combines dipoles of different sizes to create an antenna that is very good at getting a wide range of frequencies. Yagi antennas work for lower frequencies like VHF or when the frequencies you’re trying to get are very far apart, as they are in cell phones.

And there’s the explanation. The front part of that Televes antenna is a yagi, and behind it is a folded dipole. Then cover it in plastic (the part they call a “radome”) to protect it and make it more attractive, and you have that weird-looking, but awesome-performing antenna.

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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.