Antenna questions

Hi, I have a roofmounted FM-only omnidirectional antenna. It works great except for one station (important to my wife) which suffers from multipath distortion/static, so I am looking to install a directional in it's place.

1. APS is mentioned here, but their website says the antennas are non-returnable. I think it's pretty important to be able to try the antenna in your attic before installing on the roof, and return if necessary! Does anyone sell these antennas with return privileges?

2. The Radio Shack website has a chart that shows specs for their various antennas. "FM Gain" is 2.2 on the largest of the their antennas, and only 1.0 on the antennas (including a directional FM-only) that I am considering. What is up with that? Aren't directional antennas also high-gain? Should I worry about it? Since signal strength isn't a problem, maybe just a unity-gain directional is enough?

Thanks for any ideas.
Gain on an antenna is a relative thing. If i compared a 12" piece of wire to a wet noodle as an antenna, the wire would have high gain. If i compared that same wire to a well designed 1/4 wave "ground plane" antenna, it would have less gain. As you can see, it is all relative and one has to know the point of reference to know whether the antenna really has "gain" or not.

As such, most antennas are rated dBi or dBd. DBi means "deciBels over an isotropic reference" and dBd means "deciBels over a dipole". An isotropic reference is a theoretical antenna that works like garbage. As such, most any "reasonable" antenna will work better and show "gain" when using a dBi point of reference. On the other hand, a dipole is quite capable of very reasonable performance and makes for a very usable point of reference. However, since it works better than an isotropic, gain ratings based on dBd's will produce a lower, less impressive number than if one used a dBi rating instead. You can bet that dBi is what the marketing department wants to use to make their gain rating look more impressive. As such, it is possible to buy an antenna that looks to be of a high gain rating ( using a dBi point of reference ) and end up with an antenna that is equal to or lesser than one using a dBd reference. Obviously, you have to know what the antenna was referenced to in terms of how they arrived at the specific gain rating.

Having said all of that, I am 100% certain that the APS antennas would work better than any Rat Shack antenna that they have in stock. The APS antennas are tuned specifically for the FM broadcast band and are a very specialized design. While Rat Shack does make strictly FM antennas along with FM / TV antennas, they do not have the physical size / element count / gain that the APS models do.

With all of that in mind, the APS models would be the way to go IF you want the ultimate in FM reception using a mass produced antenna. Going to even this Radio Shack FM antenna and mounting it on a rotor with proper aiming would produce FAR greater signal strength than any omnidirectional antenna. We are talking about three to four times the amount of range and signal strength.

As such, you might want to try the Rat Shack design and see if it will work for you. RS has a very liberal return policy and they can be found locally in most cases. I would caution that the results that one gets in the attic will not be as good as one achieves up on the roof out in the open, so keep that in mind. You might also want to remember that "height is might" when it comes to antennas and receiving signals, so do your best to get it up high and out in the open. If the RS antenna won't do what you want it to do, you will probably have to shell out the cash for one of the APS designs. Sean
Sean, thanks, that is the exact Radio Shack model I was considering. It turns out the gain of this antenna isn't listed anywhere. The other Radio Shack models all seem to have some extra elements for picking up UHF, which doesn't help with FM, so I am inclined to stick with this barebones model.

I will probably do as you suggest and just try it.

Any thoughts on Wineguard and ChannelMaster antennas? I believe I can buy them with option to return.
Sean, you nailed this one down nicely!
Yes, I'd try the RS $22 one. You can fairly easily estimate relative gain by counting element count and geometry. If the others have significantly more elements than they'll probably have more gain.....
On a similar tack I just decided to relive my preteen years as a Ham by buying a 1957 Hallicrafters SX-100 receiver, and found on the net a couple of guys who sell "universal dipoles" using two long slinkies and a T connection and downlead! Amazing stuff. You simply string it up in your attic, and pull the slinky ends out to match wavemength. It'll go to 130 feet (gulp!), but works nicely at 15-16 feet for the SW bands normally used. For FM youd only need a few feet...hence normal dipoles. The point here is to confirm Sean's: height IS might. Even a lowly dipole, if set high enough, will offer great FM reception. Adding a few more elements (as in the $22 RS unit) simply makes it better. Don't worry too much about needing to spend more. DO use a good low-loss twin-lead instead of coax for a down-lead, though. I was surprised to hear from all the Hams that good foam twin-lead easily outperforms coax. Hmmm....
Have fun on the roof...I settled for the attic, as a couple of slinkies blowing in the wind could get a SWAT-team over to my house, I fear.
Twin lead is lower loss than coax so long as humidity remains low and it is not mounted up against or near metalic objects. Otherwise, the impedance is altered and the loss goes way up at that point. Having said that, foamed twin-lead is more stable and lower loss than the regular "el-cheapo" twin lead that uses only plastic as a dielectric. It is also slightly more expensive.

Bare in mind that what lowers the performance of coax so drastically is the use of impedance matching baluns or "transformers". These are the devices that allow one to use 75 ohm coax and adapt it to a "split terminal" ( 300 ohm ) connection. If you use one of these at the antenna and also need one for use at the tuner ( a lot of old tuners used screw or lug terminals with no provision for coax ), you are losing quite a bit of signal.

As to Ernie's comments about element count, that is "basically" true. One can change the spacing, diameter and length of said elements and alter not only the foward gain, but the front to back ratio and the bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of frequency coverage that one obtains with good gain & the proper impedance. That is why a TV / FM antenna can have a "million" elements yet not have that much gain i.e. it was designed for wider bandwidth ( low "Q" ) to cover the phenomenally wide TV broadcast spectrum than it was for higher gain in a more narrow ( like the FM band ) frequency range.

Gain, front to back ratio and bandwidth are all factors that APS has played with and why you pay so much for their products i.e. they are highly specialized designs. As such, it takes technology, "know-how" and R & D ( Research & Development ) to get things dialed in for optimum performance. Since time and knowledge typically equal money, they want to be compensated for their efforts : ) Sean

that $22 RadioShaft antenna is working pretty well for me in my attic @60 miles out. It's probably only ~25' off the ground. I have one balun up top to convert the 300 ohm to 75 ohm RG-6 coax which the tuner accepts dirctly. I'm too afraid to mount it, or any antenna, outdoors anymore. Two really unfortunate lightning strikes have taught me how to compromise.
SEan, thanks for the refresher on Q. The Hallicrafters has SIX selectable bandwiths (0.5kHz for code up to ultra-wide for "phono"...HA!), and an amazing selectable Q-adjustable "notch" filter to move in to squash a strong adjacent broadcast. Results in amazing bimodal bandwidth curves! Didn't know they could do that in the 50s...and with tubes....
So the APS must be a lot of similar-length elements all stacked in a plane, as 88-108 megs is only a 20% change in frequency. Interesting. But isn't the Rat Shack also a tight-Q for FM (but with less gain, of course)? Gotrta get back to Radio Rwanda with its 10dB S/N ratio! Talk about low fi....
The "basic" formula for a Yagi design is that the driven element is tuned to resonance in the center of the desired frequency range. The reflector is then tuned appr 5% longer than the driven element and placed behind it. Varying the space will affect the front to back ratio and forward gain. This is the most basic Yagi that one can build and have it work well.

To increase the gain, a director is added in front of the driven element. This is appr 5% shorter than the length of the driven element, making it 10% shorter than the reflector. If one wanted to increase gain further, you can add another director, which in turn would be another 5% shorter in length. This works well until you hit about 5 - 6 elements total ( 1 reflector, 1 driven element and 3 or 4 directors ). After that point, the boom becomes longer, wind load is increased and the increases in gain are not as sizeable.

As far as bandwidth goes, 20 MHz is actually quite wide in spectrum at that frequency range. As one goes up in frequency it is FAR easier to make an antenna that covers a a wide range and maintains good tuning / good gain. At the frequency range that we are at with FM, obtaining a 5 MHz bandspread with excellent tuning would be a very reasonable goal. As one strayed further away from the center of this band, antenna impedance and gain would begin to vary. As such, most antennas are tuned with a center frequency of appr 98 MHz ( middle of the FM band ) and performance is relatively lacking at the low end ( 88 MHz ) and top end (108 MHz ).

As such, if one really wanted to pull in specific stations within a certain frequency range, having an antenna made ( or making one yourself ) for that specific center frequency could result in noticeable improvements. The fact that many people are happy with indoor dipoles or simple "stick" antennas like the Magnum / Fanfare / Metz design ( that are not very broadband at all ) shows that a simple antenna can work quite well. More advanced designs simply give you even greater range with less noise and interference.

Other than that, some of the older, well designed receivers ( HF, shortwave, broadcast band, etc.. ) can work phenomenally well. Depending on how involved one wanted to get in terms of user adjustable controls, some of the "fossils" that are out there are actually "diamonds in the rough". The biggest advantage that i see to a well designed and highly tuned tube front end is that they are less prone to front end overload and adjacent channel interference. If one lived in the city near a lot of strong stations, that is probably what i would be looking for. Sean
Hi gang,

Thanks for the good info, keep the comments coming!

I bought the $22 Radio Shack antenna and played with it extensively last night in my attic, to compare with the current roof-mount omnidirectional antenna. The public radio station in question now sounds "good" but not "very good" or "excellent". I can listen to it without going crazy. A few other stations now sound "very good" (good bass, very little static, good stereo separation) and one station verges on "excellent" (you forget you are listening to the radio).

OK, so a few more questions:

1. I guess I expected even better. I will have to decide whether I can stomach the size of the ALPS antennas. Any votes for Wineguard or others?

2. I wonder if my Adcom GTP-506 and my old Technics receiver are part of the problem. How much better can a tuner do at rejecting multipath, in particular? Anyone know the Adcom tuners?

3. There are a few stations that are much worse off with the directional antenna (they're in the other direction). How bad an idea is it to attach two antennas to the same tuner? An omni or a dipole in addition to the main antenna? Can you just connect two atennas to the same terminals, or would you need some sort of "blending" device?

Thanks for all the interest!

- Eric
Eric you'd need a tuner with an internal antenna switch for two inputs (Magnum Dynalab MD102 is the one I use, but there are others) or attach an external coaxial antenna switchbox (going back to RadioShack).
No you cannot connect the two antennas together.
Although I'm unfamiliar, your Adcom / Technics units can certainly be improved upon.
Another option for additional gain up to +30dB is the Magnum Dynalab Signal Sleuth model MD205. Lists around $250; available discounted. The Sleuth is a tunable preselector with variable gain / loss as required. The Sleuth not only provides additional gain as needed, but can be offset-tuned or the gain-reduced even into a lossy mode, for rejecting undesired signals as required. Two knobs on the front panel make this easy, combined with the tuner's tuning & multipath meters.
To answer some of Eric's other questions. Yes, The Winegard
is a serious antenna. I'm using the HD6065 with a Fanfare
FT-1A tuner and it works extremely well.

Get the antenna up as high as possible but be careful not
to get near power lines! (Where will the antenna and mast
fall if the wind blows it over?)

Also, if you live in area that is prone to thunderstorms,
you MUST ground the mast and line - and unplug it from your
tuner during bad weather.

As long as yoou are up on the roof, install a rotor (or
rotator). It can really make a difference and it's cool
watching your 10 foot antenna rotate ;-) I use a Channel
Master 9521A.

Hi John,

Thanks for your reply. This is the Winegard antenna I am looking at.

It's cheaper than the APS-9, and it's bigger, but not as big as the enormous APS-13. It has about the same gain as the APS-9, per the APS website. It doesn't have as high a "front to back" ratio -- do I care about this? Does this mean the APS will be better at dealing with multipath distortion?

Anyone know of FM-specific antennas other than this Winegard and the APS antennas? I haven't found any others...

I wouldn't get too wound up in the spec's - they are all
good antennae and will serve you well. Buy what you can
afford. Get it up as high as you can. Use a rotor.

Happy listening.

Eric: Front to back ratio would come into play if you are trying to null out stations on the side of or to the rear of the direction of the station that you are trying to pick up. Gain is how much the signal is amplified once it pulls it in and front to back ratio is how well signals of to the rear of the antenna are rejected. Antennas are typically optimized for one or the other as doing both extremely well would be a tough thing to do. This has to do with the spacing of the elements. One would think that the antenna with the highest forward gain would have the tightest rejection of the back end and vice-versa, but it doesn't work that way. As "Tweed" says above, once you've gotten to this level of antenna, it is pretty much a matter of optimizing the antenna installation itself and going from there. Sean