During our 8 years of marriage, Jennifer and I have rarely had cable TV, and we have mostly gotten by with internet streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant Video on our iPads and a slew of media player options at our house (Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, WDTV Live, Wii, Wii U, Samsung Smart TV). These give us more than enough options for movies and TV shows, but these still leave us with the ever-important question, “What about live sports? We have access to certain games on the Watch ESPN app on the Roku, but Roku does not give us access to local OTA (over-the-air channels).
Luckily for us I build a homemade HD antenna 8 years ago when we were newlyweds and couldn’t afford cable for the 1st time. This cheap antenna has lasted us through 7 homes in 5 cities in 3 different states.
Here is a video that shows how to make one of these 4-way bowtie antennas…
A few days before college football opening day, I started testing things out to prepare for a full day of football, so I got this beat-up old antenna out of the garage and hooked it up for the 1st time since our most recent move. At 1st I only picked up about half of the local channels, but honestly I was surprised I picked up any at all. We live in a small town over 30 miles from Huntsville, where the nearest TV stations are located. The Alabama Crimson Tide game was going to be on ABC, but that was not one of the channels I picked up that 1st day. So I decided to just go ahead and order an amplified antenna from Amazon, thinking that surely it would work better than my old homemade antenna. I read a gazillion reviews, as I do before I order anything (even little things like socks). Finally I settled on a good one, the Winegard FL5500A FlatWave Amped Razor Thin HDTV Indoor Antenna for $48, way less than 1 month of cable TV. It got good reviews, and it is pretty cool that it is flat, allowing you to just tape it to the window or to the wall behind the TV.
It arrived on Friday, the day before the game, and to my surprise it did not pick up a single channel on the 1st try! The amplified antenna has a 50 mile range, and the TV station towers are all about 32-33 miles from my house according to antennaweb.org, a great resource that even tells you exactly which direction to point your antenna. I was shocked that my old homemade antenna actually still works better than a brand new, highly rated amplified antenna. While mine worked better, it still did not give me all the channels I needed, including ABC for the Alabama game. So then I wondered what would happen if i taped the pretty, new flat antenna to my ugly, old antenna. Combined, would the amplified antenna actually pick up a few channels?
After this successful test, I thought that maybe it was just the cardboard backing with aluminum foil that was giving the new antenna the extra boost it needed. So I detached it from my homemade antenna and found some other cardboard and foil. The picture above shows the antennas setup in our bedroom, but I wanted to be able to watch the Alabama game on our bigger, newer TV in the den. I spent awhile rigging up the new antenna with the new cardboard and aluminum foil till I got perfect reception for ABC in the den.At least I now have access to ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and a few other channels when I need to watch something on live TV, and it paid off getting to watch Alabama win its opening game against Wisconsin. Needless to say, the antenna came down after the game, but putting the antenna up and taking it down might be a Saturday ritual at our house all the way through the college football championship game this year!
Whether you build a homemade antenna, buy a “professionally made” antenna, or (like me) rig some combination of the 2, it sure is nice to watch live football in HD without paying a cable bill!