Friday, October 06, 2006

Antenna or Satellite Cable TV, which way to go?

Antenna or Satellite Cable TV, which way to go?
Friday October 6, 2006 Tom Anspach

Our TV antenna electronics were zapped by lightning. The quandary- to replace the electronics on the TV antenna tower or belly up and subscribe to satellite TV. Here is the story.

Last Monday night a nice, typical, lightning, thunder storm (with rain) came through our rural area of North Central Indiana. Lightning was crashing all around. Not unusually spectacular, but loud, and close enough to keep a person awake. Along with one medium sized crash I heard a ‘sort of a snap’, although I thought ‘uh oh’, I did not get up to check anything out.

The next morning the phones were DEAD and the TV was very snowy. ‘Uh oh’, again, that ‘sort of a snap’ may have been ominous.

After checking the phones out, it was traced to the 2 phone line sections of the surge protectors on our 2 computers. Removing the surge protectors from the phone line fixed the phone line. The 110V portion of the surge protectors were OK (they will be good for Christmas lights). The electronic phones, the fax machine, and the computer modems were all OK. The connector portion of one of the phone line splitters I had on the line was charred black. The computers were powered off during the storm. After going to the local computer store and spending 40 bucks for 2 new surge protectors the phone line and computers were, again, protected.

Now the TV. First a little background. We are located about 80 line of sight miles from Chicago, and Indianapolis. About 40 line of sight miles from South Bend and Lafayette. We decided many years ago to stay on antenna TV rather than cable for as long as possible. We have a guyed tower about 30 feet high and we live on a hill about 20 feet high. I constructed the tower, 3+ years ago, so that I can lower and raise it myself to replace stuff at the top. With our medium gain antennas (UHF and VHF) we get good signals from South Bend and Lafayette and so-so from Chicago and Indianapolis some times. There is a preamp located at the top next to the antennas a distribution amp in the basement to drive all of our TV’s and a couple FM receivers. The antennas are on a bearing mounted rotor.

Now lets see what the problem is. After some unplugging and plugging of coaxial cables and amplifier power it was apparent that the tower preamp was capoot and probably the distribution amplifier. This meant lowering the tower and buying about $150 worth of electronics. So now the dilemma. Should we stay with antenna or go with satellite? Hard cable is not available out here. A trivial dilemma in the journey of life, but a dilemma none the less.

There were several considerations. There are several channels on basic satellite cable that we would like. Local channels are available. Both Dish and Direct TV have free installation, equipment, etc., offers to sign up new customers. They both seem to have very good customer reviews. Direct is a little more expensive ($5 or so a month) than Dish. Dish has a neat $10 per month discount for 10 months. Both require a contract. My wife likes to watch TV more than me, but I also like to watch at times. We could get about 6 months of cable for what we would have to pay for repairs. The consideration to switch to satellite cable was very strong.

There were several items bothering me about signing up for satellite cable. We had cable (hard wired cable) for several years when we lived in Florida. I recall how I hated to pay that bill, that kept increasing, each month. Even though I don’t watch TV much, I still think I watch it too much. So lots of available channels to watch was not very impressive to me. I recalled that, one of the happiest days of my life was, when we lived in Florida, I took the cable box into the cable store and said ‘I am canceling our cable’. I constructed our tower 3+ years ago just so I could replace stuff, up on top, myself if something broke. Now something is broke, and it needed replacing. My wife told me the decision was entirely in my hands. She would be OK no matter which way we went.

I slept on it a couple nights. Did a bunch of searching and talking about satellite cable. Wednesday night I decided: I did not want to be under the cable bill again. It was time to make use of the capability I had constructed in the tower. It was a good time for a nice autumn 120 mile round trip ride to Lafayette to the only electronics store that I know of this close that handles long distance antenna TV stuff. And I did not want to wait for Internet shipping, I wanted to ‘get’r done’. Thursday morning I dropped the tower. I pulled the preamp. It had a black powder on the pc board. It was probably toast. I motorcycled to the parts store and bought $170 worth of stuff. As usual my initial estimate was a little low ($150). This antenna preamp and distribution amplifier (Winegard) has a little higher (15% or so) gain than the old amps (Channel Master). It was a beautiful day for a MC ride, so the time and gas to pick the stuff up doesn’t count.

I, immediately, installed the preamp and turned the power on. The TV picture improved immensely with the tower still down. This morning (Friday) I pulled the tower back up, installed the stuff in the house, reconnected all the TV’s and FM receivers. And we are back in business with TV. Now if the lightning will stay away for another 3 years. . . . I’ll be happy.

Still remaining is the why, and how. Why and how did a surge of lightning damage the TV antenna amplifiers, blow out the telephone surge protector fuses but still not damage any of the other electronics in the house? All I can say is ‘lightning does weird things’ Once in Florida, actually this is a long story shortened to 1 sentence, lightning came in through a copper clad steel telephone line, spalling all the way, went down the water pipe, to which it was grounded, and burnt out the deep well submersible pump, leaving the electronic phones and fax machine intact! The copper clad steel cable, which is normally as stiff as uncooked spaghetti, was as pliable as cooked spaghetti. (OK it was 2 sentences.)

So that is my story for today.

Another little sidelight. I had wondered for the past 3 years why FM reception did not change no matter which direction the VHF antenna was rotated. It was very difficult to pick up any classical music stations. I know when I put the VHF antenna up I removed the FM trap shunts and I thought I had set the preamp FM trap to ‘Out’. When I pulled the preamp the FM Trap was set to ‘IN’. . . bummer! So I made sure this FM trap was set to ‘Out’. Now, I quickly found an FM station broadcasting Classical Music !!!!!!. Life is good.


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