How to find and attach an outdoor TV antenna?
September 17, 2023 10:25 AM   Subscribe

The house I've owned for 20+ years has an outdoor TV antenna on the roof which I've never used. Now, I'd like to use it for network TV occasionally. (An indoor digital antenna doesn't work well.) So, how do I find any wire that might be attached and inside the house, and connect it to my tv?

Bonus question: if I can't connect my outdoor antenna, would a TV receive better if it wasn't in a basement? We've got a nice media room down there but might be worth it to get a small TV for the main ground floor for occasional network shows, mainly football right now.
posted by j810c to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The simplest way is to plug each end into a TV and see if you get good reception.

Bonus: it only matters where the antenna is. Higher the antenna, the better.
posted by flimflam at 10:49 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

You can try to guess where the inside end of the wire is, by looking in places where the previous occupants might have placed their TVs. Or you can look outside to see where it enters the house, and follow it from there until you reach the end. This will require you to access any attics or other spaces that it goes through.

You’ll be looking for a co-ax cable with an RF connector.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:00 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Do you have an attic? Our antenna was installed IN the attic and the wire was plainly visible to follow into the house. If not, maybe use binoculars to see if you can site where the cable goes into your house.
posted by XtineHutch at 12:01 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How hard is it to get onto your roof? Do you have an attic? Are you handy? Are you OK with spending some money (maybe $100) on specialized tools you'll never use again?

This is one of those jobs that could be simple or it could be one damn thing after another. If it were me, I'd go up on the roof and look at the antenna, to make sure it's in one piece, securely mounted, and still attached to a cable that appears to be sound. If it passes that basic visual inspection, then I'd trace the cable to see where it enters the house. I'd look to make sure it's grounded at that point (that is, connected to a wire that runs directly to a grounding rod or strap), and then I'd move inside the house to figure out where the cable goes once it goes through the wall or roof.

If you can see that there's a cable, but you can't figure out where it goes once it's in the house, a "tone and probe" set will help you trace it. You connect the toner to the end of the cable that you can see, and you use the probe to follow along the cable's length as it disappears into walls. Eventually you should find the other end of the cable, but whether it actually ends at a wall jack or just got cut off somewhere by a cable TV installer is anybody's guess after 20 years.

NB a lot has changed in television broadcasting in the past 20 years, with the digital transition and later spectrum packing causing a shuffling of what frequencies are in use and maybe even what towers they're being broadcast from. In your position, if the easy mode as described by flimflam in the first response didn't find a usable signal, I'd be thinking about just buying an all-new antenna and putting a new cable run in. When I installed our rooftop antenna I connected it to a networkable TV tuner (think HDHomeRun) and sat on the roof with my laptop so I could adjust the antenna's aim and see in real time how any changes affected reception at the tuner. It saved me a lot of effort going up and down stairs and a ladder. If you're not as much of a DIY person as I am, you could have an A/V installer come out to mount it on the roof and run cable for you. They should have the right testing equipment to make it a pretty quick job. They might be able to do all that with your existing antenna, but if I were paying somebody to come out I'd pay a little more and get a new antenna in the process.
posted by fedward at 12:21 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know what the system is like where you are.

Where I lived at the time (in the UK) when broadcasters switched from analogue to digital transmissions, the original analogue aerials were pretty bad at picking up the new digital signals.

Even if you can find the other end of your existing cable, and the aerial is already pointing in the right direction, you may not get a good signal now anyway.

So running a very short new cable whilst on the roof to check sounds like a plan if you can. And you may just need a new / replacement digital aerial installed anyway.

In my case I ended up adding a new digital aerial to the mast, plus an FM aerial (and all the associated cabling traced away from interference). I used those for a few years until until switching over to a satellite dish with a freesat box (that also got my regional stations) for my TV, and that worked out to be a much better option for me.

But it was more than a decade ago I watched any kind of live broadcasting. So I'm well out of the loop.
posted by many-things at 2:04 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is the indoor antenna in the basement as well? says you want it up high in a second floor or attic. There are more tips in that article.
posted by soelo at 3:17 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

It would be wise to check whether the rooftop antenna is for uhf as well as vhf. When US tv went digital, stations shifted broadcast frequencies, so that WRTV, channel 6 in Indianapolis, now is on a uhf frequency. If your antenna has the small front elements for uhf, no problem. But if it does not, you won't get stations now using uhf (you can find your local stations' current frequency band online).
A new antenna in the attic, pointed at the station you most want, could be a better choice.
posted by diodotos at 7:57 PM on September 17

Best answer: It should be pretty easy to figure out where the other end of the cable from the antenna is just by looking for the connector - it will almost certainly be a wall plate with a round connector either recessed in or sticking out a small way from the plate. Most likely in the living area/s and/or master bedroom (if the media room was there when you moved in, there'll certainly be one there). Once you find it, plug in the TV and see what happens. The existing antenna will not be correct for modern digital TV signals, but it can't be worse than a small indoor antenna so may be good enough for you. There's nothing to lose by just trying it out.

If you want better, installing a new antenna is not too difficult if you're handy and, if not, there will be lots of people competing for your business to install one so ring around and get quotes for a new one.

Using the indoor antenna in a basement is not going to work well - TV signals are basically line-of-sight and the antenna needs to be able to 'see' the transmitter (more or less). Usually, higher is better for indoor antennas.
posted by dg at 8:41 PM on September 17

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