Weird problems with your antenna? Replace the balun

I first became aware of the cord-cutting revolution in the late ’00s. Digital TV was rolling out all over the country and people really had it in mind that they could ditch cable and go back to 100% free television. As the decade wore to a close, it seemed like a good way to save some money. That was at least as important then as it is now.

What happened? A lot of people bought a lot of antennas. In fact they still are. Some folks have stayed with that free TV lifestyle, while most combine it with some form of streaming to give a more complete experience. But, while we tend to replace our streaming boxes pretty regularly, our antennas just stay up year after year.

Antennas made in the mid-20th century were expensive and incredibly well-built. Unfortunately from about the 1990s through the early ’10s, it was hard to find an antenna as well-made as those old titans. In the interest of cutting costs, most manufacturers made antennas lighter and less well-made than before. When Solid Signal finally brought Televes antennas to the US a few years ago, customers finally had a choice. Well-built antennas we back. But, this meant a lot of older antennas that were perfectly good but were wearing out.

What to do with that older antenna

So you have an older antenna and maybe you’re not getting as many channels as you used to. Let’s talk first about the steps you should probably take.

1. Did you scan for channels?

In the last two years, many channels have moved or changed frequencies. A rescan may restore those missing channels for you. Every TV is different, but it’s something like this. Press MENU to go into the TV’s menus and look for something like “Settings” or “Setup.” Look for something like “Antenna Setup” or “Off-Air Setup.” Usually there is a “Scan for Channels” option. It usually only takes about 3 minutes and all the new channels will be added automatically.

2. Did you try re-aiming the antenna?

Antennas can drift off aim sometimes, and new trees can make it harder to get signals. Generally you just need to aim in the general direction of a major city. You can try moving the antenna a little bit to see if reception improves, or putting it up higher. If you’re in between large cities, or in the middle of one, a site like tvfool.com will help you figure out precisely where to aim.

Sometimes, after aiming, rescanning for channels will bring in even more.

3. Figure out if you need VHF

Some channels have actually moved back to VHF in the last few years. Channels 36-51 were taken away from TV broadcasting and given to 5G services. If you think your local TV station has gone to VHF you can check tvfool.com or rabbitears.info and look for the “real” broadcast channel. If the station you want has a real broadcast channel of 13 or lower, you might need an antenna that has VHF capability.

When those basic tips don’t help

This is a balun. A balun converts between a balanced signal and an unbalanced signal. In other words it converts from that old-school flat cable to the coaxial cable most antennas use. You might remember them from when you were a kid.

You may not realize that every antenna has a balun built into it. Antennas themselves have an impedance close to 300 ohms, just like that flat wire. However, coaxial cable has an impedance of 75 ohms. You need a balun to make sure that the antenna connects to coax cable.

Your antenna’s balun could look like the one above, or it could be a small box. Either way, there is a connection point somewhere. Somewhere, there are wires that come from the antenna and connect to a coaxial cable. And that may be the whole problem.

Talk is cheap. So are baluns.

To be real honest, a lot of antennas use very inexpensive baluns. I mean these things costs pennies to make. And eventually, everything breaks. Before you toss out the whole antenna, pick up a balun at Solid Signal and see if replacing the old one brings back a bunch of channels. It’s worth a try, especially at such a low cost.

Of course if that doesn’t work, you can always try a new antenna from Solid Signal.

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 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.