By now, anyone who knows me is certain that I am always looking for an excuse to climb onto the roof to check out the view. Well, the view is great, but the fact is I am a little perturbed that I haven't yet been able to get a consistently good signal for all my local TV channels at our country home, in Coon Valley, south of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Yes, I can be a perfectionist. I want a solid signal all day, every day, regardless of weather. Is that asking so much? As anyone who grew up on analog TV knows, that is almost asking the impossible. Childhood memories of channels from distant cities fading to "snow" with the heat and sun of a summer's day come back to me every now and then, as do local channels breaking up with momentary static for each lightning strike during severe weather. Even in the age of digital TV, the same is true today, if a little differently. The atmosphere still affects reception: the picture freezes, gets "blocky", or drops out all together for a few seconds, rather than having static or snow.
Nevertheless, in an attempt to improve my reception, I decided to rework my rooftop antenna arrangement recently with the goal of getting a dependably solid signal for ALL my local, and not so local, digital TV channels. Why? On warm, breezy, beautifully sunny afternoons in July, WXOW 19 and WHLA 31 often had erratic signals in our valley, the video stuttering along, often dropping out completely for a few seconds. Very annoying to watch. Yet evenings the signal would be fine. Likewise, distant WEAU 13 might be weak during the midday, or evening for that matter, with no predictability. Some days, WKBT 8 would even drop out unexpectedly. Not a shock since our VHF antenna was aimed at a position half way between WKBT and WEAU, a compromise position that worked well much but not all the time.
To improve the situation and again "try something until it works", I purchased two new antennas, one UHF and one VHF. The UHF antenna is the Channel Master 4228HD, marketed as a new design for digital TV reception. I like it because it is more directional than the Antennas Direct DB8 it replaced. The DB8 is a multi-directional and sensitive antenna that, to me, seems prone to be affected by nearby electrical interference (such as the neighbor's running tractor) and lose signal. In the VHF range, the new Winegard YA 1713 (channels 7-13 only) antenna is identical to one I already had on the roof. My thought was to combine the two VHF antennas using a Channel Master Jointenna, aim one directly at the broadcast tower for WKBT 8 and the other at WEAU 13, an arrangement I have noticed on rooftops in La Crosse for years.
Before climbing all the way up the ladder, I did something I have never done before: I dragged an old fashioned 13" (portable?) CRT TV onto the roof, attached a converter box to it, resolving to take my time and carefully aim the antennas for best signal. I started with the 10 foot mast having the UHF antenna in the highest position. Surprisingly, this did not work well for all channels: WHLA 31 was excellent, but WXOW 19 and WLAX 25 were fairly weak. Gradually, I moved the antenna in stages down the pole, checking signal strength at each point, and determined the best location was, surprisingly, at the bottom. It was a compromise, with each of the three having roughly the same signal strength there, none at their best. After determining this, I took it down and put on the first VHF antenna at the top of the pole. Again, using the TV, I aimed it north in the direction of Eau Claire and simply turned the antenna this way and that, using small moves, until I found the best signal for WEAU 13. Yes, human rotor. Next, I attached the second antenna about half way up the pole, aimed it toward WKBT 8, and made the same adjustments for best reception before tightening it into permanent position. Lastly, I put the UHF antenna at the bottom, aimed for best compromise reception for WXOW 19, WLAX 25, and WHLA 31 and tightened it down. For those wondering how long my arms are, um, yes a tall step ladder straddling the peak of the roof and lashed to the antenna mast was useful. After standing atop the ladder most of the morning and into the afternoon, one's fear of heights does subside and the glory of God's creation below and all around does crowd out any other thoughts. Or maybe I was suffering heat exhaustion on an asphalt roof.
End result: reception most of the time is now pretty good if not excellent most of the day. The other night, there were severe thunderstorms north of our location in Vernon county, south of La Crosse. So it wasn't unexpected that WKBT 8 and WEAU 13, both broadcasting from that direction, were breaking up much of the night. However, the UHF channels, broadcast east of us and mostly clear of the storm, were rock solid all night. When I whined about losing a couple channels, my wife reminded me that some she knew who were in the storm's path complained of losing their satellite reception for all channels. A solid signal can be an elusive thing, regardless of the broadcast system employed.
Unsolicited Advertisement: anyone wanting free TV that is intimidated by the thought of climbing onto the roof (or do they just have good common sense?) might consider contacting Numsen's, a very old fashioned looking TV repair shop in downtown La Crosse. The owner installs antennas and was more than willing to offer advice when I asked. Good guy.