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Tech Savvy Consumer: There is no digital antenna

Harry L. Mack simplifies what antennas do and why premium prices may be being charged when marketers try to sell, at inflated prices, digital antennas - a misnomer, he says. And, he says, there are some very valid, very economical reasons to install an antenna today. There are more stations available off-air, and often stations not otherwise available can be pulled in with a one-time cost antenna. He gets the Lexington station he likes over-the-air. His cable company doesn't carry it.
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By Harry Mack

In a recent edition of an area paper, I read several references to a digital TV antenna or digital antenna. The term digital antenna is a misnomer, probably created by a marketing person with no background in antennas or electronics. The same thing applies to the term HD antenna or High Definition TV antenna.

With my background in telecommunications and electronics, I spot this type of hype right away. I hope this commentary will help those not familiar with antennas.

Here is an explanation of antennas in general: Antennas are designed to transmit or receive a radio frequency signal, no matter what that signal contains. It could be a voice radio signal, an analog TV signal, or a digital TV signal; it does not matter. What matters is the length of the antenna elements. These are those rods you see sticking out both sides of a TV antenna.

To maximize the strength of the signal for the receiver, whether it be a TV, radio, or some other device, the elements must be a certain physical length. The reason for this is to be resonate at the frequency that is being broadcast. Radio frequency waves have different lengths for different frequencies. The higher the frequency goes, the shorter the length gets.

You will notice that TV antennas made for UHF signals have much shorter elements than an antenna made for VHF TV signals. That's the reason why.

So, the antenna doesn't really care if the signal is a digital TV signal, as if antennas had feelings and cared about anything. All that matters is that the elements of the antenna are the correct length to receive the frequency of the signal that is being broadcast. If it is not, it still may receive the signal but not as efficiently because it is not resonate at the broadcast frequency, therefore the signal sent to the receiver will not be as strong.

To put the above in terms most people can relate to, think of it this way: A bottle is designed to hold liquid and has limitations as to the amount of liquid it can hold. It doesn't matter what that liquid is, with the exceptions of something that will react with the substance of the bottle.

If it is a quart bottle, it will hold a quart of water, milk, ice tea, or any other liquid; it doesn't matter. The same applies to an antenna. I hope this helps.

Of course, antenna theory is much more complex that what I explained above but, for the average consumer, that's all you need to know. So if you get some salesperson try to sell you an antenna at a higher price because it is a digital antenna, tell them they are full of it, using whatever term you use for that expression.

As a side note, if you have an antenna to watch TV, you will find out that there is a lot more out there than there used to be. I use mine to watch the Lexington stations because the news coverage by the Louisville stations ignores this area and my satellite provider doesn't offer the Lexington stations due to some legal reason, so I use the antenna to get better news coverage. Also, many of the stations have several signals on the air and broadcast more than their primary station programming. Some of them broadcast movies and others broadcast some of the older shows and series that many of us enjoy seeing again. So, get an antenna for your TV and see what you are missing!

If you are wondering why I sent my commentary to
  1. The paper I sent it to didn't even acknowledge what I sent them and never published it. I suspect it was because I was commenting on something that someone paid to advertise in their publication.
  2. Also, by having it appear here, more will see it and, I hope, will be helped by it. At least you will have a better knowledge of antennas.
Harry Mack, Campbellsville, KY, the writer of this column, maintains the web page Vision Riders, the local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association in Central Kentucky, which has members from several counties. If you visit, click on "Newsletters" on the home page to read his posts there. He's also the author of two books on, "Blue Collar CIA" and "The Treasure Mystery Clues," found at Harry L. Mack at

This story was posted on 2015-09-06 04:45:52
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