How Does an Outdoor TV Antenna Work?

By Kate Evelyn


While it seems most people have cable these days, or at least one of those tiny satellite dishes, there are still many households that rely on an outdoor TV antenna to get a signal. While it is definitely not a new invention, the good old outdoor TV antenna still works very well for picking up local network channels. This is all thanks to video and sound frequencies.

About the Antenna

An outdoor TV antenna is always made of metal so that it can easily pick up analog signals. Each antenna has a boom, which is the tall piece of metal in the center. The boom has a series of metal rods that cut across it horizontally. Each of these rods can receive a signal from a television transmission tower dozens of miles away. Finally, there are receptors on the boom (one for every two rods) that actually grab the signals once they reach the base of the boom and are able to send them down to the television attached to the antenna via an AV cable.

How It Works

A television antenna is specially built to accept VHF or UHF signals. TV stations put out these signals through transmission towers, which are usually located on the roof of the station or another high up point, like a hill. The antenna doesn't do much work as far as translating the signal into audio and video. That is left up to your television. All the antenna does is make sure that signal arrives safely from the transmission tower and then gets sent along.

Why Signal Changes

Everyone with a rooftop antenna has probably lost signal at some point due to a snow, ice or wind storm. This is because the weather can affect the antenna's orientation. If it's pointed toward the transmission tower of the channel you are trying to view, you will pick up that channel better. That being said, it is true that there is no perfect orientation for viewing all of the channels, unless of course all of the transmission towers are on the same hill facing exactly the same way. However, if the antenna topples over, you can be sure that none of them will work that well.

Making the Best of Things

If you don't want to get cable but do want the best signal, consider getting a larger roof antenna. A bigger boom can get you more channels by picking up on ones that are farther away. Also, an antenna with more rods will in turn have more receptors. This will give you better luck with channels you already get and allow you more options as a whole.