I’ve had a OTA (Over The Air) TV antenna installation for many years. I haven’t had cable in eons and satellite for almost as long. They simply cost too much for what they give – 100 channels and nothing to watch.

OTA is free for the taking and a small investment in equipment gives as good a signal as you can get wherever you are. I live between two major markets, so I put up two antennas and combine the signals onto one line to the TVs.

I’m in the Buffalo area, so that’s my main market. The TV stations are mostly in two directions. A big ridge south of Buffalo provide a hill that has several stations located. The rest are on Grand Island with big 1000+ foot towers. Signals from the south at moderately strong and the ones from Grand Island are so strong you barely need an antenna.

For these stations, I use a 4-bay bowtie antenna pointed towards the south stations.

The second market is Toronto. One of the benefits of living near the Canadian border is getting TV from a large city there. Better than just a second US market, they offer their own programming and networks, not just duplicate of US networks. One other thing that really helps is almost every Toronto TV station is located on the CN Tower, a big space-needle-like structure built specifically for a communications hub. Its also a cool landmark!

With all those stations in the same place, it’s pretty easy to point an antenna at them. There is some differences in signal depending on power but not enough to matter. I have a long UHF Yagi with corner reflector pointing it’s way.

It’s an old Radio Shack UHF antenna that I bought many years ago to receive Channel 79 out of Toronto in the mid 70’s because they had “blue movies” on weekends. It was a novelty and we sold a lot of antennas to get the weak (pre-CN Tower) very high UHF frequency. I had to prove it could be done and had it mounted on a fire escape at the apartment I lived in back then. After I moved, it spent most of it’s life either stored or in the attic, so it’s still in good shape.

Combining the two antennas into one coax was always the weak point. At the time I installed them, all I had was a two way splitter which was connected in reverse. Not the ideal way to do it, but not much else existed at the time. I carefully measured equal lengths of coax from each antenna in hopes of avoiding phase cancellation, a futile effort with two different antennas. I put an upside down plastic drink cup over it to help keep rain off. The cup lasted a couple of years in the sun!

Over time, the system degraded. We still got our TV but we began to notice breaking up in bad weather, even just some big clouds. I wondered if it was time to check and see if the antennas might have moved. Certainly time to replace old coax with newer, lower loss cable. But the combiner was still not ideal.

Doing some research, I found a company offering a product that solved the problem. A company from Spain called Televes sold a mast mount preamplifier with two inputs specifically for this situation. Newer technology in response to the DTV market was used to make the preamp automatically adjust to the variables presented by multiple signals from multiple antennas. So I bought one! Unfortunately, it sat here for more than a year while life got in the way and kept me from installing it. Recently, I decided I’d better get it done before fall came and the weather got worse.

The first step was to assess the antennas and check their orientation and see if I could tweak them back to maximum signal. If they were in bad shape, I’d replace them.

I had my son help get an extension ladder up to the antennas. I can’t haul a ladder around by myself like I used to, so his help was essential. Once in place, I tied off the ladder to the mast that supports the antennas so it couldn’t fall in a windstorm. This job was not going to be done in a day, so I planned to leave the ladder there for a while.

A long piece of RG-6Q quad shield coaxial cable was used to connect each antenna individually. I used a spare TV and an old DTV converter box on the kitchen table to check the signals. The converter box was used because it has a good on-screen signal strength meter, something most TVs lack. The problem with DTV is that there is no way to gauge the signal. It’s either there, or it’s gone. The very small gap between those two is pixelation and loss of sound and doesn’t offer much intuition about adjusting the antenna. Antenna pros have test sets to do this. They’re small enough to take up on a roof. I had to settle for a lot of trips up and down the ladder and an old DTV converter…

For an entire afternoon, I spent time running up and down the ladder and back to the kitchen trying to improve the signals. My conclusion was that both antennas had not moved a bit and I could not get any improvement by reorienting them. The good news was the signal strengths were very good and most stations were giving 100% signal connected directly. Any problems I had with poor reception must be within my distribution system.

Another thing I tried to do was to get any stations from Hamilton ON. Turning the antenna for Toronto about 20 degrees to the south would split the difference between the two. I only succeeded in getting one of the stations and it was all religious content, so I put the antenna back square on Toronto. Looking at the Rabbit Ears report, both of the other Hamilton stations had issues with co-channel stations in other directions, so I gave it up as a lost cause.

Over the next few days, I cleaned things up. I replaced the balun transformer on the Toronto yagi, ditched the old combiner and installed the new Televes two input amp. All cable was replaced between the antennas and the amp. For testing purposes, I connected the amplifier power block to the old line going into my attic. I connected the second output it has to the temporary set in the kitchen. The signals were excellent in the kitchen, but they were less than stellar in the rest of the house going through the old system. I had an old amplifier in the line up in the attic. When I pulled that out, everything got just as good as the TV in the kitchen.Televes amplifier set Televes amplifier combiner

So, it was time to move the power block into the attic and replace all the old cable. It was a mix of RG-59 and RG-6. It all had old-style crimp connectors. The piece of RG-6Q quad shield cable I was using temporarily was more than long enough to reach into the attic where the block was to go. I used a barrel connector to connect the old to the new and pulled the old cable from in the attic until I got the new cable there. Of course, the connector snagged at the entry point through the gable end vent and I had to climb into the unfinished attic. Fortunately, it was a cool day! I went back outside and dressed the cable down the mast and wire tied it all in place with a drip loop at a low point.

The new cable was cut to length and a new connector put on it. The power block was put where the old amplifier was. I had a good quality 4-way splitter there I kept in place. One output from the power block went to the 4-way, the other went directly to the main TV in the living room with an entirely new run of the RG-6Q. The old run from the splitter was left in place and is still there if it is needed for any other devices downstairs. I had a 4-way splitter in my basement, but at this time don’t need it. Enough extra cable was left near it that I can cut the cable and splice it in line.

The second TV in the bedroom is fed from the 4-way block in the attic, as is the HDHomeRun in my office just a few feet from the attic access. I had a head-scratching moment when I grabbed a piece of coax near the bedroom TV and connected it to the TV. I got stations, but not all of them or as good as they should have been. I noticed another piece of coax and tried it. It gave better results and was clearly the right one. It then dawned on me, the other coax went to an old TV antenna in my attic that I no longer use!

So, still left to do is to get up in the attic and put in an AC outlet for the power brick. The power to the old amp was fed from a power injector near the bedroom TV. For now, I have an extension cord going to it, but there is a light in the attic and I’ll tap into the wiring to it to get an outlet. The cable run to the bedroom TV could be replaced, but it’s always been inside and not exposed to the elements. It’s only about 25 feet long and has newer compression connectors, so I’ll leave it. There are a couple of places I’d like a TV antenna fed to that I might run additional coax runs for. My front room, my daughter’s room, etc. My son already has a drop into his TV. While I had the TV in the kitchen for the day, my wife was watching it while in the kitchen and I said wouldn’t you like a TV up there on the wall? I had suggested that once before and got an ambivalent response, but now that she tried it for a day, she likes the idea!

The HDHomeRun I have had for a while, but never got much use from now is a great asset. You can watch TV on any computer with it now that it is getting a good enough signal from the antenna. I can’t get the software from Silicon Dust to work. They insist on making it an app in the Microsoft Store and not one of my computers will install it. Probably because I refuse to let them be logged into a Microsoft account continuously and phone home. But it works great on my Android phone! It also works great as a tuner within Kodi and I put that program back on a couple of my computers. For an occasional view, I can get it to run in VLC as well.