A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided it was time to cut our internet bill by switching away from Charter to a local wireless internet service provider named Internet USA. I figured it was a good time to reconsider our cable TV package too -- we'd discussed switching to DirecTV in the past. But to my surprise, my wife suggested going to over-the-air TV instead.

I've thought for a long time that the TV is on way too much in our house, so I agreed. I wouldn't have suggested it myself, because it's going to affect my wife a lot more than it does me -- she's the one who'll have to deal with the kids' lamenting the loss of their favorite shows during the work day, plus she watches more TV than I do.

I ordered a digital converter box from Amazon for $40, and after a little research, picked up a $50 antenna from Radio Shack. It worked pretty well, but the remote that controls the direction it's aiming was missing (clearly, someone else had bought and returned it and forgot to return the remote -- the bag for it was in the box...)

I figured before returning it, I should look into making my own antenna -- that way if I needed to buy a part or two, I could pick it up when I dropped the antenna off. It turns out it's pretty easy to do.

The guy we bought our house from left plenty of spare copper wire laying around after finishing the basement. So I cut a bunch of it up and built a UHF antenna first. It worked okay, so I made a High-VHF antenna for channels 11 and 13 next.

While wondering how I was going to connect both antennas to the same feed line without having them interfere with each other, I discovered something surprising: the two 13 inch pieces of copper wire I'd used to make the antenna for channels 11 and 13 also pick up channels 29 (UHF) and channel 5 (low-VHF) surprisingly well!

After experimenting a little with the direction it was aimed, I'm getting channels 11 and 13 at 100% signal strength and quality, and 5 and 29 at about 50% strength and quality, which with a digital signal is apparently more than good enough for a perfect picture. The transmitters for channels 5 and 29 are located about at right angles to each other, so strengthening the signal for one requires weakening the signal for the other, but they're both strong enough to work fine with the antenna pointing in a compromise direction.

Reader Comment:
Antone Roundy said:
Since I wrote this, we started having occasional trouble receiving channels 5 and 29 (depending on weather and time of day), so I swapped out the 13" copper wire for a homemade "DB4"-style antenna (without the reflector), and made a longer antenna be...
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I suspect that I'm benefiting a lot from the fact that I have an attic to put the antenna in (to get it up about the level of surrounding structures and trees) and even more from being in the middle of Nebraska, where there's nothing to block TV signals for hundreds of miles around. But who would have though that two little pieces of left-over copper wire could make an antenna that works on all 3 bands!

Internet USA will cost us $25/month for 1.5Mb (actually, I think we're getting 2.5Mb in and 1.5 out). 7 TV channels will be free (5, 11, 13-1, 13-2, 29-1, 29-2 and 29-3). Charter was costing us $109/month, and that price wouldn't have lasted forever.

We're losing a lot of channels, and Hulu misses a beat every once in a while because the the wireless internet's higher latency, but for about $1,000/year and the chance to wean the kids off TV a little, it'll be worth it.

And I didn't even have to pay for the antenna!