In an age of commercial-free digital music, streamed around the clock over the Internet or a cable TV feed, transistor radios might seem as outdated as the eight-track tape. In truth, they're still a practical, low-cost way to listen to music, local news or other programming. They also remain a useful part of any emergency kit, using battery power to keep you informed or entertained during a blackout or natural disaster. If you live in an area where reception is poor, you can improve your signal with a simple wire antenna.
Purchase or scavenge a length of two-conductor wire, such as speaker wire or lamp cord. Light wire, 20- to 24-gauge, is easier to work with.
Measure three feet at one end of the wire. Place it on a cutting board or other suitable surface, and carefully divide the wires by cutting between them with a hobby knife or box cutter. Leave the remaining length of wire joined.
Wrap each end of the split wire around a thumbtack, straight pin or small finishing nail. Choose a spot on the wall near your radio, and tack the separated wires to the wall so they're spread fully, making a "T" with the remaining wire.
Measure out enough of the remaining wire to reach your radio easily, with three or four extra feet so you can move the antenna as needed. Cut the wire to the correct length, and strip the insulation from the last quarter-inch.
Screw the wires to your transistor radio's external antenna terminals, if it has them. If not -- most don't -- twist the wires around your transistor's telescoping FM antenna. Tape them in place if you wish, or use an alligator clip for a more finished appearance.
Tune in your weakest FM station, or the one you specifically wish to receive. If the signal is strong, you're finished. If it's still unsatisfactory, move the antenna so it faces in a different direction. Repeat until you find the position that provides the strongest reception.
Purchase 60 or 120 feet of fine single-strand wire at RadioShack or another retailer.
Wind the wire around a small, straight-sided saucepan, approximately 6 to 8 inches in diameter, to make a continuous coil. Try to keep the wire from crossing, as much as you can.
Slide the wire coil to a paper plate, and tape it down. Leave a few feet of wire extending from the plate. Place a second plate over the first and join them edge to edge, with tape or staples. This isn't necessary, but makes the loop antenna assembly look neater.
Strip a quarter-inch of insulation from the end of the wire. Loosen one of the screws on a nearby light switch and wrap the wire around it, then tighten the screw. This provides a ground for the antenna.
Place the transistor radio near your homemade antenna. Tune the radio to your desired station. Hold the paper plates vertically, and rotate them until you find which direction provides the strongest signal.
Tape, pin or glue the antenna assembly to a suitable surface, where it's close to the radio and can be held in the correct position. An empty glass jar or soda bottle will work on a tabletop, or you can tack the antenna to your wall if there is one nearby that faces in the correct direction.
- If your radio has a headphone-style jack for an external antenna, or a threaded connector like the one used for cable TV, you'll need to purchase an adapter for your FM antenna. Your local electronics retailer should have them in stock.
- The telescoping antenna on most transistor radios is used for FM signals. The AM antenna is inside the radio, consisting of a coil of wire wrapped around a ferrite core. It's not necessary to connect directly to the internal antenna, since it will pick up signals from the nearby wire-loop antenna.
- The length of the antenna is determined by the length of the radio waves it's intended to receive. If you want to build a more powerful antenna, double or quadruple the length of wire specified here.
- You might find you can improve the reception of your favorite FM station by increasing or decreasing the width of your "T" an inch at a time until your antenna is tuned to that specific fraction of the FM band. Reception on other FM stations will be reduced slightly, but your overall signal strength shouldn't be badly impaired.
- Increasing the length of your antenna might be necessary, if you find you're still unable to receive the desired station. If there is a stronger local station on nearly the same frequency, you might be unable to tune the weaker signal.
- If you are unsuccessful with a DIY antenna, several passive and amplified models are available from electronics retailers.
- Any piece of cardboard or other flat surface will work as a mount for your AM loop antenna. Alternatively, you could wrap the wire around a cardboard box of suitable size, or build a small frame for a more professional appearance. The wire loop must be vertical for the antenna to work.
- Two-conductor speaker wire or lamp cord, 20- to 24-gauge
- Cutting board
- Hobby knife or box cutter
- 2 Thumb tacks, straight pins or finishing nails
- Wire cutting/stripping tool
- Tape or alligator clip (optional)
- 60-foot or 120-foot spool of fine single-strand wire
- Small, straight-sided saucepan
- 2 paper plates
- Empty glass jar or soda bottle (optional)
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