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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Worried about seeing the Super Bowl? Don’t forget an old-fashioned idea: ‘Rabbit ears’

To all those satellite-television customers worried they might not be able to watch the Super Bowl because of a dispute between DirecTV and WHDH-TV, Larry Artz, of Nashua, has some advice: Take a blast from the past and try some do-it-yourself technology.

“You can take a set of rabbit ears, shorten it down and stick it in the back of the TV. Even a coat hanger. … Crude antennas sometimes work pretty well,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Super Bowl will be broadcast by WHDH from its transmitter in Newton, Mass., and there’s no reason you can’t snag the signal yourself, even if DirecTV doesn’t carry it.

In precable, predigital TV days, it was common to create makeshift antennas for sets, both inside and outside the building. That includes so-called “rabbit ears,” a term that comes from the appearance of the dipole antennas that sat atop sets for many years.

The fact that most people now get their reception via cables connected to the back of the set has led many to forget that signals still fly through the air, free for the taking if your TV has a built-in tuner (as HDTVs do).

“You can build a temporary antenna, take it down when the game’s over,” Artz suggested.

Artz is a little more comfortable with this idea than most people, since he works at MIT’s Lincoln Labs in a group that does antenna design, and he also has a ham-radio antenna on a backyard tower.

“One power outage many years ago, it took out an amplifier on the tower, so I just rigged up an antenna quick,” he said.

Here’s a suggestion from Artz, culled from an e-mail prompted by a Telegraph story in which DirecTV customers lamented the loss of Channel 7’s signal:

“Look on the back of the big screen … see a silver co-ax connector there? Attach a cable there and run it outside to an antenna,” he wrote.

“You don’t have an antenna? Cut 2 pieces of wire each about 14 inches long, attach one to the center conductor of the cable and another to the outer braid. Now tie some string onto each cable and spread it out and tie it off into a tree, fence post or whatever. Move it around to find a good spot for a rock solid picture on the TV.

“Channel 7’s signal is strong enough that unless you are living under a lead bucket, you should have no problem receiving WHDH over the air. People have forgotten all about going back to the basics.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or