Jazz Tech: Tune In, Turn On
July 15, 2008. Posted by David Tallacksen.
Radio is a finnicky thing - while it may seem simple (turn it on and it just works!), radio waves are subject to many complex rules of physics. Any of you that may be trying to pick up WBGO in the basement of a steel or concrete building, or in the shadow of a tall building or in the valley of large hill, likely already know this. While we don't ask or expect that you go and build (as pictured above) a wire-mesh backet antenna, there are a couple things you can do to increase your chances of getting a great sounding signal through your radio.
To that effect, we're starting a series called Jazz Tech. We'll explore all things tech and how it can enrich your jazz-listening life. The first thing we'll cover is antennas - a relatively easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your radio. All the nitty-gritty details after the jump.
First things first - in this installment, we'll be strictly addressing radios you have in your home or business. Car radios and their antennas are generally quite capable - manufacturers know you'll probably be using the radio quite a bit, and design them with that in mind. Sadly, the same does not go for home or portable radios.
Secondly - it's always best to have a receiver with an external antenna input. This way, you're not stuck with an internal sad excuse for an antenna, but can use an external antenna. We'll talk about some recommended receivers in the next installment. But, if you already have such a receiver, read on.
Radio waves essentially work by line of sight - this means you wil have the best chance of getting our signal if your antenna can 'see' our transmitter, located on the tallest building in downtown Newark. The higher the better. If you can place it outdoors, even better! But we'll start with antenna that can be used indoors and will be a significant upgrade from most 'rat-tail' whip antennas that come with your all-in-one stereo.
The FM Reflect Antenna is an indoor dipole antenna. At about $35, it's a good alternative for apartment dwellers that can't place an antenna outdoors. The closer to a window you can get it, the better. And placement/orientation does matter with all antennas, so try many variations! It is fairly easy to hide behind wall hangings, so aesthetics should not be a great concern.
At about $110, the Fanfare FM Antenna is a step up from the FM Reflect. It can be places either indoors or out, and includes a mounting bracket. This antenna is specifically tuned to work best with radio stations on the left side of the dial (like 88.3!).
Finally, if you own your own place and are either handy or are willing to hire a contractor, a roof-mounted Yagi antenna is your best bet. They vary in cost, but decent ones can be had for much less than $100. Keep in mind you'll also need to figure out how to get the cable from the antenna to your receiver, so there will be additional costs. Yagi antennas are directional by nature, so you'll want to orient them towards the transmitter for best reception.
Next time - some recommendations on FM receivers. Are you having reception problems or have recently overcome them? Let us know! And share any tech questions you may have. Happy listening!
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