Cars are always adapting to nuances and frustrations of models past. You often see vehicles on the market these days with small antennas boxes fixed to windshields or short stubby antennas rising at an angle from the roof of the vehicle. These wonderful adaptations to the antennas of yesterday are mostly for aesthetic purposes, but they do offer some additional perks. There are still plenty of vehicles out there with long antennae protruding from the hood of a vehicle and in danger of being bent back through an especially aggressive car wash or powerful stormy winds.
Early antennas were incorporated into the body of the radio itself, and were equipped to only pick up AM frequencies as that is all that existed in the 1930’s. This technology evolved with the creation of the FM radio, when radio antennas needed to be long pieces of steel or alloy and were mounted to the body of the car. Eventually, luxury vehicles deemed the unappealing antenna ugly, and created retractable antennas that would extend depending on which frequencies you were looking to listen to. Antennas became standardized in the 80’s, to be solely metal poles attached to vehicles to easily standardize the replacement and manufacturing of antennas on the market.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why the long shiny swords of antennae have evolved into small shark fins? To answer this question, we must first understand how antennae work. Radio waves are magnetic energy transmitted through the air that your car antenna picks up, and transmits it to the receiver, isolating and amplifying the waves into various sounds. The standard size of an antenna is typically 31”, and it has been that for decades. These days, antennas are compacted down and are coiled to save space. Some small fins actually contain multiple antennae built for various reasons and receptors, including satellite receptors.
Small compacted antennae and shark fins do often have poorer reception than the long 31” antennae you see on older models, but the sacrifices they make for AM/FM reception are worth the perks of the satellite radio add-ins. There is also something to be said for the sleek antenna fins you see on most Mazda’s, the aesthetic trade off of the long antenna may be worth the poor connection abilities for AM/FM.
It is a wonder how things adjust as technology advances, and it will be interesting to see how antennas continue to advance as the world of radio and vehicles change. Things are shifting towards satellite antennas, which do not need to be long pieces of metal but instead small boxes that can attach to windshields. Before we know it, the long metal antennas will be completely outdated.