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Tech- Tune up your TV antenna

June 11, 2008 by Chris Bryant · 72 Comments  
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Winegard Sensar Antenna In my last post on television- TV in your RV, I pointed out that the standard Winegard “Sensar” (a.k.a. “Batwing”) antenna works very well for the new digital tv signals (and, by extension, works well for the digital HD signals).

But… what to do when you cannot get the stations that your neighbor can, or when the antenna gets a bit stuborn while cranking it up, down, or turning it.

Luckily, troubleshooting these antennas is pretty easy, and along with some regular maintenance, the Sensar will give years of top notch viewing enjoyment.

Let’s take a look at the basic of maintenance and repair for antenna and coax cable….

Mechanical Maintenance

Lubricating the Sensar

The first item to cover is regular maintenance- something everyone should be doing, whether you have problems or not. This should be done on a fairly regular schedule- a good time to do this is on a twice yearly inspection of the roof sealant (you do need to get on the roof to do this….. don’t fall off!).

These pictures are from the Sensar owners manual, which you can download from http://winegard.com/mobile/sensar.htm – if you don’t have a copy, download, print and read the manual…. it answers a lot of questions.

You want to use a pure silicone spray lube to do this… not WD-40 or any lubricant that contains petroleum products!

The reasons for this are two fold- if you have an EPDM (rubber) roof, you don’t want the petroeum getting on the membrane, and the worm gear that elevates the Sensar uses an EPDM set of washers to seal out water… using a petroleum based lube will destroy this set of washers, resulting in leaks. Simply praying the gears and base with silicone lube will eliminate the “chunka-chunka-chunka” that you sometimes get when lowering the antenna, and keep the washers that provide the seal intact- protecting you from leaks.

Electrical Tune-up

(and Coax cable repair)

As I have often said- the Winegard Sensar is an excellent antenna (here at our shop, they outperform a large 12 foot multi-element “deep-fringe” antenna we had, which was much higher than the Sensars).

There are only a few things that can go wrong with the Sensar and by far the most common is a problem with the coaxial cable , there are generally 2 types of coax used for Television signals, RG-6 or RG-59 . Winegard uses RG-59 for the short length of cable that comes pre-attached- the reason you need to know that is that the end F connector is different for each type of cable- RG-6 is larger than RG-59.

The Sensar comes in 2 versions, an unamplified and an amplified version. By far the most common version is the amplified model, which usually (but certainly not always) has a wall plate with a switch and an LED power indicator.

Sensar Wiring Connection If you notice in the illustration, the coaxial cable is both carrying the signal from the antenna to the power supply, and carrying 12 volt power from the power supply to the amplifier in the antenna. Most problem I run in to with this setup is due to a bad connection right at the antenna, so that the amplifier is not getting power.

Luckily, this is easy to diagnose- simply turn the power switch on, unscrew the coax from the antenna head, and check to see if you have 12 volts between the center conductor and the shield (outside). 90% of the time, this connection will be the problem- the other 10% of the time, it will be in the first splice, which is sometimes hard to access. The first (and usually only) splice in this cable will be right under the roof plate inside the roof. If you are lucky, you can pull it out (carefully) through the entrance hole in the plate- if not, you may have to remove the inside crank assembly and fish around for it a bit.

This brings up the issue of the “F” connectors themselves and how to properly install them There are several types of connectors, but only 2 types are really good enough to use- the hex crimp and the compression type. There is a twist on type as well, but the twist on is only useful in an emergency repair- for a variety of reasons they are simply not very good- including the fact that we are running 12 volt power through them, and the sharp threads in the barrel tend to simply cut the shield wires.

The hex crimp and the compression type are both very good when done properly, but doing them properly requires going out and buying the right tools (for me, “having” to buy a new tool is a good thing – for some it may not be).F Connector tools I would recommend buying the compression type tool, for a couple of reasons. First- the “economy” compression tool does just as good a job as the expensive models, and many (if not most) professional installers use compression fittings, because they tend to be naturally more weather resistant, and make a good, firm connection. Unfortunately, the economy crimp type tools don’t make a hex crimp, they make a round crimp, with “ears”,which distorts the cable enough to cause problems sometimes, and isn’t very secure. Economy compression tools can be found at most large home center type stores for under $20 (the tool in the picture was purchased at Lowes for a bit under $50, it will work on many different brands of compression connectors).

The next tool which is nearly mandatory is a good coax stripper. Now, you might question the need for a special stripping tool that just works on coaxial cable, but, while it is posssible, it is very, very hard to prepare a coax cable properly for connection without one.

Why? The answer is that not only does a good coax stripper strip all of the layers of the cable to the right length, but it does that without nicking the center conductor. because the senter conductor of an antenna coax cable carries very high frequency electricity, it is subject to something called the skin effect, which is that very high frequency signals travel just on the very outside skin of a conductor. A nick in this conductor will cause the signal to reflect backalong the cable, causing reduced signal reaching the television.

Coax cable stripping
The skin effect is so pronounced that a lot of RG-6 cable has a center conductor of steel, with copper plating- the steel is simply there for stregth, and the copper plating carries the entire signal.

These thumbnail images are of of a good coax stripping tool (under $15), and properly prepared coax cable- ready for installing either a hex crimped or compression F connector.

A few tips-

  • If you need to buy coax cable, either RG-59 or RG-6, look on the jacket for the specs- most RG-6 cable is spec’d at 2.5 to 3 gigaherz, which isn’t needed for regular TV signals, but is needed for satellite signals, and some RG-59 will actually meet this spec. You can never have too much bandwidth.
  • When you have to figure out which cable goes where, I use a multimeter set on Ohms, and a small jumper cable with sligator clips. I then measure the resistance between the center and shield, then shirt them out with the jumper and measure again. When I find the one with near zero resistance, I know I’ve found the right cable.
  • Never try to push a meter probe in to a female F connection- it will probably fit, but you will distort the spring metal inside the connector. I cut a short piece of cable and use the center conductor to insert in to the F connection.
  • Clean and shiney- the signal currents we are dealing with are tiny- the smallest bit of corrocion can mean the difference between getting a picture and not.

With a bit of maintenance, you can get better “off the air” reception than any of your neighbors- and with the new digital transmission, you can get better reception than either cable or satellite, if you simply follow the basics!

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Comments

72 Responses to “Tech- Tune up your TV antenna”

  1. John Davis on June 11th, 2008 7:31 pm

    Chris, about the TV antenna maintenance…

    Our Sensar is an old 1983 unit. The cable failed and I put an F connector above the roof and connected to the antenna head from there. I did this because I felt I would not be able to pull new cable all the way. This is in a Holiday Rambler 24′ C coach.

    This worked for a couple years but now reception is very poor again. Is there anything in the antnna head itself that I should check?

    THANKS for doing these articles, they’re great!

  2. Chris Bryant on June 12th, 2008 7:01 am

    Hi John,
    The basic test to see if the antenna head is working is simply to test for 12 volt power at the head- if you have it and the reception doesn’t get much better when you turn the power on, then the head is most likely bad.
    I would sure try replacing the F connector again, and you might see if you can see the end right under the roof plate at the first splice.
    I will say that the new heads do work much better than the old ones, though the old ones do work well, usually.

    –Chris

  3. John Davis on June 12th, 2008 9:01 pm

    Thanks, Chris!

    I’ll work on that next, need to buy/borrow a coax stripper first.

    I just did the a/c tuneup you spelled out. Old Coleman Mach3 is producing a split of 30 degrees. It cools well here at home but I wonder how it’ll do at the beach under a heavier heat lad.

    THANKS for the great articles!

  4. John Hilley on June 12th, 2008 9:47 pm

    Nice article and very useful

  5. John N. on June 13th, 2008 12:58 pm

    Another clear, concise, and well documented tech blog. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  6. Todd on June 28th, 2008 5:47 am

    Chris,

    I have a question about the spray you mentioned. Is the white lithium grease spray a good alternative, or is it also petroleum based?

    Thanks,

    Todd

  7. Chris Bryant on June 28th, 2008 8:15 am

    Hi Todd,
    I would only use the silicone, though the white lithium grease *probably* wouldn’t seep down to the O rings around the shaft, but better safe than sorry.

  8. Bill Hanson on July 25th, 2008 11:13 am

    thanks for the info about maintaining the bat wing. i would like to say that don’t forget to attach a notice of some kind to your steering wheel like i do to tell you that your antenna is up, cause even moving around the home yard broke the two support brackets to the bat wing when i was parking it under the awning. ops can be expensive.

  9. Jim Etenburn on July 25th, 2008 3:32 pm

    I recently purchased a 1996 HR Endeavor LE. The antenna does not seem to have the power booster connection, Can I simply swap it out with a boost connection to improve my reception? Seems to me like that should work. Great article. Keep them coming.

    Jim

  10. Ron Paul on July 25th, 2008 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the great article on antenna maintainence. Another serious problem happened to me in Tucson this winter. When I raised my antenna, it refused to rotate. I climbed onto the roof and had my wife hold down the locking ring while I rotated it manually and it worked fine, albiet a little stiff.
    After LOTS of troubleshooting, lubricating, etc., it turns out that the nut that holds
    the whole operation together had decided to tighten itself a tiny bit. That particular nut is ONLY ACCESSABLE by a special VERY THINWALL socket that is only available thru Wingard. I suffered thru the winter by signing up for cable and when I got home, phoned an RV tech friend of mine who came over and fixed it for me. I have since purchased this tool to the tune of $25.00+. Expensive
    cure with a single-use tool.

  11. harold erdmann on July 26th, 2008 2:05 pm

    How about some instruction on hooking up the new digital to analog converters? I haven’t been able to get this info from any stores where I have asked. They all give a different answer. I have a video controller in the front of the RV. The inputs go into it and a cable goes to each TV. I need to have the converter for the TV in the bedroom located there, so the remote will work on the converter from the bedroom. If I connect a the wire from the front of the RV to the input on the converter, then from the output on the converter to the TV in the bedroom, will the signal from a cable hookup at a campground, or the signal from the VCR, pass through the converter and play OK on the TV in the bedroom. The TV in the front would then have the same method of connecting that converter between the video controller and the TV.

  12. Mac McClellan on August 1st, 2008 9:57 pm

    We bought a 32 inch HDTV a few months back, and were going to buy a special HDTV antenna. I hooked up the Wingard amplified batwing and tried it out — great picture! No need to buy anything else.

    Thanks for the good article on tune ups.

    Mac

  13. Morris on August 9th, 2008 11:34 am

    Chris, I just purchased a pair of Digital-to-analog TV converter boxes with my two Gov’t discount cards. When hooking up the front TV I discovered that I did not know how to find the correct antenna-in cable. The original installation included a fancy selector box to allow incoming signal from the roottop Wingard Batwing antenna, or the rooftop dish or the campground-provided cable service or the VHS/CD/DVD unit.
    I tried hooking the converter box ahead of the VHS/CD/DVD unit but the converter box will not find any stations. The over-the-air signal in my area is weak but I normally get 4 or 5 channels very well with the Batwing antenna.
    Where should I hook the converter box to get the proper signal from the Batwing antenna? HELP!
    Morris

  14. Earl on August 14th, 2008 1:44 pm

    I have a 2007 motorhome that came with one of the “multi-directional” antennas. One of those little round things that is stationary. How does one improve the reception on these things?

  15. Tom Warbin on September 1st, 2008 1:11 pm

    I have a new Coby TV in my new trailer but the reception is snowy and only one channel. It has a co-ax connector available. Can I get better reception away from a cable hookup? at least something clearer to view? Is there an antena or dish available for this purpose?

    Thankyou for the concideration, Tom.

  16. sue on September 1st, 2008 6:31 pm

    thanks for the information. it was a great article, but i have the round antenna on my beaver motorhome.
    we get HORRIBLE reception when others around us get good. we have had monaco look at it multiple times.
    any hints for improving this antenna would be greatly appreciated.
    thanks,sue

  17. Chris Bryant on September 2nd, 2008 2:46 pm

    Hi Sue,
    The troubleshooting for the Winegard “Roadstar” round antenna is basically the same- you need 12 volt power to the antenna.
    Unfortunately, that antenna just is not as good as the directional Sensar- it was really developed so people could get TV reception while driving.

    Morris- the converter box basically needs to go right before the TV- I’ll do a post on the different ways to hook them up, though- as there are a lot of options.

    Tom- what kind of antenna does your trailer have now? By far the most popular is the Winegard, though some makers use the AntennaTech, which is pretty much a “clone” of the Winegard, but both should give decent reception.
    I have found some mis-connected cables in new rigs, though.

    –Chris

  18. rhqjr on September 8th, 2008 10:30 am

    Chris love your articles, however the tech tune up the antenna did not come out soon enough. Can you tell me how to replace the gears.

    Thanks kkep the great articles coming

    Russell Q

  19. John Black on September 25th, 2008 10:05 am

    Chris, in the article about TV antenna maintainence you said to use a pure silicone lubricate. Is there a particular brand name? All the silicone products I’ve looked at are or have a petroleum base and other additives.
    Any help will be appreciated.
    I love the Q & A.
    Being a new rv’er it enlightens me to problems before they happen to me.
    John

  20. Larry on September 29th, 2008 5:12 am

    I have a TV antenna on my roof. I connected it up using a converter (two flat leads to the F-type coax connector). The two flat leads connect to the antenna at two screws with wing nuts on them. Reception for the VHF channels is poor, but most of the UHF channels come in nicely. I examined the antenna and noticed that the two wing nuts tap into only part of the antenna, which is insulated from the rest of the antenna. The main horizontal member and the ribs seem to remain UNCONNECTED to anything. The antenna obviously has two components, probably UHF and VHF. I see no connectors or screws to access the other element. Any suggestions on this puzzle would be appreciated.

    Larry

  21. rhqjr on October 1st, 2008 2:19 pm

    Chris: I just replaced the 2 aluminum square support tubes and the plastic gear that raises the tubes/antenna. They, the tubes and gear is connected properly. I cannot raise the antenna or rather it is so hard to turn I am afraid to turn the handle inside. Do you have any suggestions. Is there an adjustment on the thredd rod for gear/tubes?? I thought they just slid togather and connected.

  22. Jose Lozano on October 23rd, 2008 7:49 pm

    Hi Chris, first timer, I have a 2004 Holiday Rambler purchased 3 years ago, My power antenna buster box which distributes signals from roof antenna, cable , VCR and satellite to multiple televisions did not have 12 volts power supply, I try to get some help from some local RV repair shops. not having an schematic to trace the power to the box, my only recourse was to run external 12 volts from the cigarette lighter, which became a real issue with wires hanging all over. Ultimately I pickup a 120volts AC transformer with a 12 volts DC output. this resolved the power supply to the box but it only works when connected to shore power or the generator. In you article you mention the 12vc power at the antenna, could this be where I lost the 12 volts dc supply?

  23. R W Bennett on October 29th, 2008 11:58 pm

    RW Here
    I have Video Control Center, does that do the same thing as the plate box with the little red lite like the picture above? My friend gets HD and I can’t. We are both about 45 miles from the TV station. I can get a great signal when I’m closer. I have 13 volts at the cable end at the ant.

    Thanks
    R W

  24. Bill Keyes on November 2nd, 2008 11:11 am

    I have an AntennaTek model 500 (probalby a 2004 model year), does it support digital signals as well?

  25. Keith Thomas on November 5th, 2008 4:42 pm

    I have a Winegard batwing antenna that is leaking. At first there was just a few drops
    of water on the handle. Now it is much worse. Can you tell me what parts I will need
    to fix it.

    Thanks

    keith

  26. Philip Eastman on November 26th, 2008 3:20 pm

    I installed 2 converter boxes to 2 seperate Tv’S. everything works great, However I now get what appears to be interment interference diagonal lines. (not when a commerical is on)At first it was on the front TV, now I have interference on both TV’s. Your response please. Phil

  27. Chris Bryant on November 27th, 2008 9:31 am

    Sorry- I haven’t been following the comments very well :) .

    RW- some of the Winegard video control centers do replace the power supply- if you are getting 13 volts at the antenna, your model does. Even though you do get voltage at the antenna, I would be tempted to replace the ends anyway, paying close attention to not nicking the center conductor.

    Bill- the Antenna Tek model should work fine for digital TV signals.

    Keith- I would first try spraying some silicone lubricant around the base of the gear. There is a rubber “quad ring” (like an o-ring, but it has 4 round parts in cross section) that provides the seal. You can either buy a replacement quad ring, or a replacement worm gear, which comes with a new quad ring.

    Phil- interference like that is sometimes hard to diagnose, but a couple of thoughts. Florescent fixtures can create interference, as can modern converters, so I would try shutting down the converter and any florescent fixtures you might have. Another possibility could be a “ground loop” though I’m not sure if that would cause this type of problem. Ground loops can be frustrating to diagnose and correct.

  28. JAMES DUPONT JR on December 9th, 2008 8:02 pm

    I see a couple of posts where the complaints are of lines and interfearance after they have installed the converter boxes. A ground loop is usually bars slowly rising thru the pix caused by 60 hz leaking thru from the AC line. I(n these cases ,I would suspect RFI which is caused by modulators and or tuners crosstalk . any way ………..try moving the boxes,vcrs and the cables apart to see if there is an effect………….may be minimize it by allowing some space betwqeen the box,the vcr,the tv etc. If you have video input jacks on the TV,utilize that in hooking the converter box video/audio out puts(red wht /yel) like you would a dvd player……….acess that input and that will hopefully take care of it!!
    As far as the digital signals go…………they are actually uhf ,so if you had poor uhf reception…………….you will have poor digital reception.
    Trees are an enemy of the shorter wavelenghts………keep that in mind!!
    James DuPont Jr …..DuPont TV JFD Tech SVC……….Batavia NY

  29. Chris Bryant on December 10th, 2008 7:10 am

    James- thanks for the input- good stuff!

  30. John Hill on January 24th, 2009 10:45 am

    How do I connect a converter box in an rv? I have one tv in fron and one in back.

    Thanks
    John

  31. Tony Cornett on January 29th, 2009 10:35 pm

    Keith,
    I had the same leaking problem you have. The manual shows you where to lubricate it. A seal gets dry as i found out an no longer seals. Once I lubricated it the seal softened up again and the leak quit. download the manual above and it tells you how to lubricate it (the seal). Mine did.;) No more leaks. the darn thing was dripping right on me in bed! I didn’t have to replace anything, just lube it and all was/is well.

    Tony
    aka firedude
    http://www.thefiredude.com

  32. Alpenliter on February 2nd, 2009 10:05 pm

    Is the cable connection in the back bedroom of a trailer amplified as well? My new LCD in the bedroom doesn’t get as many stations as the main TV.

  33. Chris Bryant on February 3rd, 2009 12:03 pm

    Hi Alpenliter- The connection to the rear set should be amplified as well.

  34. cconnector01 on February 20th, 2009 3:34 am

    It depends on the cable we are using in the TV’s. The coaxial cables are the best one and you can tune it up by using it. Also if its not good, you can adjust the cable or trim it and use again.

  35. Dennis Patalingjug on March 11th, 2009 3:04 pm

    I am replacing the original factory installed Winegard batwing antenna with a new Winegard Sensar III Amplified VHF/UHF antenna. It came with a an exterior wall plug 12 v converter. It is a little black unit with 110 male plug on on end and a coaxial plug on the bottom of the unit. It also came with what looks like a 2 way splitter unit. The splitter unit is labled, to tv, to antenna, etc. My question is identifying the antenna lead wire. Also, I have 2 tv locations in my fifth wheel. Living room and bedroom. the living room has a wall jack with a booster button which lights up when activated. does this new 12v converter replace the booster unit? The antenna came with no instructions.

  36. Chris Bryant on March 11th, 2009 4:14 pm

    Hi Dennis,
    Your original wall plate power supply should work fine with the new antenna- I’m not quite sure why you received the 120 volt power supply, but the 120 volt power supplies simply “push” 12 volt DC power up the the antenna head, so *if* the original cables are still good, you shouldn’t have to replace anything other than the antenna itself.

  37. Don on March 21st, 2009 6:42 pm

    How do i get to the gear to replace it?

  38. Charles & Gail Bray on April 1st, 2009 3:12 pm

    Hi we just recived our latest RV VIEW on page 6 there is a picture of the new carryout dome satellite TV antenna. Would you let us know your take on this setup. we have a fifth wheel. We were just looking around our local area and the cost is 1600.00 to 1800.00 with instulation . the carryut is about half as much. if it is possable we would much rather go this way because of the cost and one less hole in the roof.
    Thank you
    Charles Bray
    cbgb20@msn.com

  39. Chris Bryant on April 2nd, 2009 1:18 pm

    Hi Charles,
    I just sold and installed (not much installation!) my first Winegard Carryout, and I have to say I am impressed. There are a few caveats- it doesn’t work for DirecTV HD, and I’m not sure about the setup for Dish HD (though I will be finding out).
    But… all in all, it worked very well- only 2 cables to hook up (or 3 if you need the dual LNB feeds), no control box (it’s self contained). It only took about 2 minutes to lock on to the satellite on it’s first power up, which usually takes longer, simply because it remembers the last elevation and starts from there.
    Personally, I would go with a Carryout and the ladder mount as being the ideal setup- semi permanent mount, yet if you are under trees easy to move (I do always worry about it “growning legs”, though).
    – Chris

  40. glen harroun on May 11th, 2009 10:13 am

    We have added the wingard wingman to enhance our digital signal. The digital tv has a bar graph signal strengh meter. While at YPG outside Yuma, the weak station (11) went from one bar to three bars and the strong station went from 5 bars to seven bars. Practically speaking the wingman makes the antenna more directional, you obtain a better signal when aimed directly at the source and less signal when at 90 degrees to the signal. they do work and are a 5 minute install, no tools required. glen

  41. Rich on July 1st, 2009 2:30 pm

    Neighbors in park were receiving better reception even though I had installed the wingman so bought a new head (ULTI.SENSAR IIIANT HD w/LM U.S-RV2005. I realized later that I would not be able to install the wingman to this unit. The one I am now using came on a 2000 coach when new. Should I stay with what I have or would the new head perform better?

  42. richard chaltry on July 8th, 2009 9:42 am

    dick on july8 2009

    How do I hook up a new digital converter box to the distrubiton box in a RV?

  43. bmcm on August 12th, 2009 9:59 am

    have 97 four winds with bat wing antenna,with booster, works fine,but will not pick up digital signals.thinking of hooking up digital antenna on top of it and switching cables,but first want to know if is just the old type antenna,get 10 different answers from ten different professionals,one even said turn booster off causing problem.converter box and screen both show no signal. can get one old analog station without box etc.so know its working.would like ya or na if old antennas can pick up digital before i switch.thanks.

  44. paul karl on September 13th, 2009 10:47 am

    don’t know if this is the right place to ask a question, but here it is. did a dumb thing let attenna dowln facing the wrong way drove 300 miles now it won’t go back up can this be fixed by simply taking out the crank handle and turning the attenna 180 degrees are am i going to have to replace all of the gears
    GLAD I FOUND THIS SITE RALLY INFORMATIVE SO FAR THANKS

  45. Steve Nardi on January 19th, 2010 9:20 pm

    Chris, Our 2009 Fleetwood Backpack is equiped with a digital TV and a swept wing style antenna similar to something you might see on a limo. Reception is horible. The picture pixleates in seconds. Will the new Winegard RoadStar Omnidirectional Antenna improve reception? Thank you in advance. – Steve

  46. Ronald Rice on May 15th, 2010 2:54 pm

    Question
    Is it possible to mount Winegard 4 sensar bar head to a Antenna Tek lift arm assembly?

  47. sal avitabile on July 10th, 2010 2:08 pm

    where do I get parts for the sensar I may need a head?

  48. Hank Gavarkavich on July 16th, 2010 12:25 pm

    Will a Radio Shack Antenna mounted high-gain amplifier enhance the incoming signals on winegard sensar?

  49. Tina on September 14th, 2010 5:21 am

    Have a vintage Winegard Sensar 1987 on our Allegro. added digital converter box and barely getting 1 station at our house outside DC… Quad gear gasket now leaking on top of that. Thinking about upgrading to the new Sensar IV HDTV antennae. Will test what he have based on the excellent advice here but wondering if anyone else has switched and gotten lots better reception from the “newer” technology…

    thanks!
    tina

  50. Mike Vanderhoff on April 1st, 2012 12:34 pm

    I hooked up with Comcast at aside we were staying for an extended period of time. The installer took our inside connection and disassembled it an ran a wire direct for the cable. It worked great but when we left the location thr regular antenna did not work so I took it apart and found that all the cable lines were disconnected. When I started to hook them up I got a big spark when I touched the cable to the center connection . Now I cannot get power to the antenna to boost the reception .what do I need to do to fix this. Thanks in advance .allmyou previous advice is great.

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