Build a Long Range Antenna for $20

If your television reception is poor to nonexistent, take a stand with this long range antenna you can build yourself.

| May/June 1985

  • long range antenna - closeup
    A long range antenna built on this design can improve TV reception in areas where it's otherwise poor.
  • long range antenna - antenna and house
    The antenna assembly mounted on the house.
  • long range antenna - antenna rotator crank
    A 1/2" steel rod bent into a crank shape serves as an inconspicuous and functional rotor control.

  • long range antenna - closeup
  • long range antenna - antenna and house
  • long range antenna - antenna rotator crank
A few years ago, some friends of mine shed city life for the country, escaping to a small piece of land in the mountains. They were delighted with the clean air and the elbowroom, but being isolated took its toll — out of the blue, so to speak: Because their tract lay in a hollow, television and radio reception was almost nonexistent.

The fact that their house was surrounded by hilly terrain, as well as being located 70 to 120 miles from most of the local transmitters, dictated the need for a high-gain, long range antenna capable of picking up signals over that distance. However, the $100 price they were quoted for a commercial unit stopped them in their tracks. So they came to me (I'm an electrical engineer) and asked whether they could build an antenna that would serve the same purpose.

After doing some research and subsequent number-crunching, I discovered that not only could they duplicate the performance of the high-buck rig, but — using common hardware and some sections of bamboo that was growing nearby — they could probably do so for about $20! By this time, I was excited enough to jump right in and give them a hand, so I drew up a plan, and we built the antenna — twice! The first model, you see, was destroyed in a storm, so I took the opportunity to try out some new ideas on a second version — a conduit and plastic-pipe model. The one I'm about to describe incorporates the best features of both these prototypes.

Antenna Anatomy

Any antenna — TV, radio, or whatever — consists of three parts: the element array, the framework, and the mast. From a performance standpoint the element array is the most important because it picks up the signals, but it's actually nothing more than a metal pattern of the right size and shape to suit a specific purpose. This design uses a Yagi-enhanced, log-periodic pattern —which, simply put, means that it has broadband capability and can thus cover the very high frequency (VHF, channels 2-13), ultrahigh frequency (UHF, channels 14-83), and frequency modulation (FM) broadcast bands.

Commercial elements are usually made of aluminum rod, sometimes anodized to resist corrosion. However, we got by with bare copper-stranded "radio" wire and some insulated bell wire left over from another project.

The framework is nearly as important as the element array because it supports that pattern and holds it in shape. Our bamboo cost us nothing and was both strong and lightweight; the parts for the PVC-pipe and conduit frame unit had to be purchased, but it was a bit easier to assemble than the "cane" version. Actually, anything light and rigid should work, but it would be better to choose a nonconductive material to avoid interfering with the pattern.

Finally, the mast holds the entire antenna assembly above the roof and parallel to the ground. We used a 10' length of 1" conduit (electrical metallic tubing, or EMT for short) to do the job, but any kind of thin-wall mechanical tubing would serve as well.

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