OTA (over the air) or broadcast television is a great way to receive free entertainment. But setting up an antenna can be confusing. We’re going to show you the best way to install and position an antenna to receive the most channels possible.
Check your Coverage
Before you run off to Best Buy or Amazon and purchase an antenna, the first thing you should do is make sure that you can reliably receive OTA signals. The FCC website is the easiest place to check which channels are available to you. Type your home address into the box at the top of the screen and it will show you a list of all the TV stations you should theoretically receive. The channels highlighted in green are the ones you’ll be able to pick-up with little effort. Yellow means it’ll be a little harder and you’ll need make sure you’ve got everything set up just right and brown means you probably won’t be able to get the signal without some serious equipment.
As you can see from the first image, the location I entered should easily receive every major channel (Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS). This is a good sign that I can get by with just about any antenna.
Now look at the next map:
Several stations are yellow, which means they’ll be more difficult to receive (but not impossible!). You’ll also note that there are multiple ABC stations. That’s because this location is receiving signals from two different cities. With a powerful enough antenna, you can pick up both of those ABC stations and watch the local news from two different towns!
Once you’ve confirmed that your location can receive all the major channels, it’s time to pick an antenna.
How to Choose an Antenna
A search on Amazon for TV antennas yields thousands of options. How do you pick the right one?
The answer is: “There is no right antenna.” Your location and how you aim your antenna has much more influence on your ability to receive broadcasts than your choice of antenna. It is also why you can’t let the antenna reviews on Amazon guide you to a choice. Because one person’s 1 star review could be due to where s/he was located rather than the quality of the antenna itself. The only reviews that matter are objective, head to head testing done by independent researchers (or journalists, as is usually the case), such as this one. But, keep in mind, if you are located in an area with good signal, and all of the channels on the FCC website are green for you, then any antenna will work just fine – get the cheapest, most popular one, like this one.
If, however, you have lots of yellow channels, then you’ll need a quality indoor antenna or a good outdoor antenna. For indoor, I’d recommend the Mohu Leaf. For outdoor (or attic mounting), the ClearStream 2V. The ClearStream 2V will likely get a little better signal, but is harder to mount and is much more conspicuous (i.e. ugly) than the Leaf.
Finding the TV Towers
Before you slap that new antenna on a wall, you’ll need to determine where the TV towers are located. There are several websites that show you. My favorite is TV Fool. (Unfortunately, TV Fool has become outdated and may be missing some of the channels. A better website for seeing all available channels is otadtv.com. It lets you do all the same stuff as TV Fool, but is a little harder to use. Most of the following information can be duplicated on otadtv.com).
When you enter your address into the form on TVFool, you’ll get a very nice chart of all the channels in your area, and most importantly, the compass direction of the towers. If you click the image on the left (or above), you’ll see just how much information you get from TV fool. But for now, we’re only looking for the direction of the towers – which I’ve circled. Often, all the major networks will be at roughly the same location. Using a compass (or a compass app on your smartphone), you can stand in your house and face the exact direction the signal is coming from.
Another way to see the direction of the towers is to use the “Online TV Maps” tool. Entering your address into this form will show you a map of all the towers from your house. Clicking on the green circles will tell you which channel is broadcasting from each tower. I’ve clicked on the ABC tower below. And when you select ” Show lines pointing to each transmitter,” you can see the directional lines to the towers.
Zooming in on this map, and changing to satellite view gives a remarkable image:
Now I know exactly which way the signals are coming from! At this house, the ABC tower is part of the dark green grouping coming from the right side of the image, or, in this case, the back side of the house. I also happen to know that Fox, CBS, and NBC are at the same location. Armed with all of this information, I can now find the best location for my new antenna.
Mounting Your Antenna
The general rule of thumb for mounting an antenna is you want it as high as possible, on the same side of the house as the towers. For the above house, I’d want to be on the second floor or the attic and in one of the back rooms of the house. You want to minimize the amount of solid materials between the antenna and the towers.
If you are further from the towers and most of your channels are yellow or brown on the FCC website, mount your antenna outside on a pole or the roof. Make sure the antenna has a clear view of the towers (some trees are OK, but you’ll want to make sure your antenna is clear of the roof). You also need to ground the antenna. I won’t go into the specifics on this, but most outdoor antennas come with instructions. If you mount your antenna inside your house, you do not need to ground it.
If you purchased the ClearStream 2V antenna or any other “directional” antenna, you’ll want to face it toward the towers. In our example house above, I’d want to face it toward the back of the house, turned slightly to the right. Or, if you have a compass, at 126° (found on the first TV Fool chart above). If mounted indoors, try to aim the antenna through a single wall, if possible. Going through multiple walls will degrade the signal more. If you mount your antenna in the attic, try find a spot that is not obstructed by roofing shingles. The tar based roofing shingles in most houses degrade the signal more than wood or even aluminum siding. But if your signal is strong enough, the shingles may not matter.
If you purchased a flat antenna, like the Mohu Leaf, it does not need to be aimed like other antennas. However, you want to mount it so that it generally faces toward the towers, rather than in line with the towers, so that the larger surface can receive the most signals. It also helps to mount a flat antenna in a room that has a window that faces the towers. Flat antennas work by picking up the “flood” of bounced signals, and most of the signals come through windows, rather than walls. You may still be able to pick up good signals if you mount the flat antenna in a room opposite the towers, but the signals will be weaker since they have to travel through more ‘stuff’ and closer to a window is always better.
In all of these cases, mount your antenna in a way that it can be easily removed, because the location you choose may only be temporary.
Now it’s time to test!
Testing your Antenna Signal
Run a coaxial cable from the antenna to a television. You can either run the cable directly to a TV in the same room, or if you want to get fancy, run the coax to a cable outlet in the room. Then re-route the coaxial cables in your cable box or central closet to send the signal to a TV in another part of the house (my preferred method). But to start, I suggest running a cable directly to a TV, and once your antenna is aimed, feed the signal to the rest of the house.
With your coaxial cable connected to a TV, turn it on, go to settings and find an option to “Scan for Channels,” “Auto Program” or something similar. Make sure to select “Air” or “Antenna” and not “Cable” before you do the scan. Run the scan and see what you get.
Hopefully, you’ll get a bunch of channels. Check each channel it found. Make sure you were able to receive all of the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS) and some of the other major ones, like the CW and ION. Then refer back to that first online search you did at the FCC website. Make sure you are receiving all the channels that the FCC said you should. Also, if your TV supports it, check the signal strength of each channel. Make note of any that are low.
At this point, there is a very good possibility that you are missing one or two channels. Or maybe some channels have a very low signal strength and get “blocky” or distorted. You’ll need to do a little detective work figure out why they didn’t come in.
Look at your previous research and find the channels that don’t come in on those charts. Make note which direction those channels come from and if the channel is UHF or VHF (Also called HI-V).
In our example house above, PBS comes from the opposite direction as all the other channels. If I can’t get PBS, I’ll need to reorient my antenna so it can better see the PBS towers, without losing sight of the rest. If I’m using the ClearStream 2V, I might move it to a place where PBS is blocked by fewer walls. Or if I’m using the Mohu Leaf, I might move it to a place that can see a door toward the front of the house as well as the rear window. Every time you move your antenna, re-run the channel scan. I’ll repeat that again, because it’s important:
Every time you move your antenna, re-run the channel scan!
If your missing channel is a VHF channel and you have a directional antenna with rabbit ears (the two movable sticks), try re-positioning those sticks. (A tip for VHF – positioning the rabbit ears completely flat to the ground, i.e. horizontal, will better pick up the signal).
If you run your channel scan and get no channels, it’s likely that there is a problem with the coax cable or connections. Re-check that the cable is fully threaded into the connections at each end. And if that doesn’t work, try using a different cable.
If you run your antenna to a coax outlet and send the signal through the house to a remote TV, the wiring in your house can degrade the signal as well. Too many splits in the coax line may drop the signal to a level lower than the TV can pick up. If that’s the case, adding an amplifier to the antenna or one of the splitters should help.
It may take many adjustments to get all the channels, but antenna aiming is a bit of a black art. The old days of twisting the rabbit ears just so, standing on one foot and chanting to the TV gods still apply. Radio signals bounce off everything and can hit your antenna from every direction depending on whats around it. But if you start with the above knowledge, you’ll go into the process having a much better chance of success.
And if you’ve tried everything and still can’t get a good signal, contact us. As always, consultation is free!