Here's a YouTube video that's now making the rounds as the Great Digital Television Switchover approaches ever nearer (unless, of course, the Obama administration succeeds in pushing it back). The grassroots-y video (note the tear in the knee of the guy's jeans that his whole leg comes through) shows you how to "Make Your Own HiDef TV Antenna from Clothes Hangers" that will work better than amplified antennas for which you'd pay over $100, or in some places even $150.
Really, it's not just coat hangers - you also need a plank of wood, some screws and washers, a bit of cable and a UHF/VHF transformer - but even if you had to buy all the supplies new, you'd still only be out maybe 10-15 bucks. And commenter after commenter says yeah, it really does work as advertised.
I still wouldn't necessarily believe it, but I got the link from Randall Cleaver, a member of Philly's Dumpster Divers, who says "I made one for our TV and I found everything I needed in my piles of stuff. Not only does the picture come in clearer but we pick up more stations." Obviously, for this to work after the digital transition, you will still need your converter box, but given the documented problems with reception as well as those anticipated, having an antenna that really works could soften the Feb. 17th blow - er, if it is Feb. 17th of course.
Some tips from Cleaver to supplement the instructions in the video: "Where the coat-hanger wire crosses over itself in the middle, I stuck some pieces of electrical tape on to make sure they were insulated from each other." And if you need to set the antenna somewhere that the wires are sticking out, "you could put plastic tips on them, but don't bend the tips of the wires at all." Finally, he says "It took a half hour to make and install. I love low tech solutions to high tech problems!"