How to Improve FM Antenna Reception

Musical interference driving you nuts?

Terk FM Antennas
Terk

Despite streaming music is growing in popularity, FM radio is still with us and available even if your internet connection is down. While streaming needs a strong internet connection, FM needs a strong signal. If your isn't strong, here's what you can do to improve it.

Causes of Poor FM Radio Reception

To understand how to improve FM radio reception, you need to know what affects it.

Distance

You may be too far from one or more station transmitters to receive a good signal, but you may also be too close. If you're too close to a transmitter, the signal may overpower your radio, and in some cases, damage it.

Stationary Obstacles

Radio signals can be affected by physical obstacles such as hills, buildings, and trees. Some home construction materials, such as stucco, concrete, aluminum siding, metal roofs, foil-lined ducts and conduits, and solar panels limit the effectiveness of indoor or attic-placed antennas. Also, since FM radio transmissions require line-of-sight reception, at very long distances, the curvature of the Earth can also block reception.

Moving or Intermittent Obstacles

Weather (wind, rain), interference from certain types of electrical equipment, cell towers, and airplanes can also affect FM radio reception.

Station Frequencies Too Close Together

A nearby and distant station may both be receivable but their frequencies may be close together. This can cause interference where each station is heard at the same time but is distorted.

The ability for a radio tuner to distinguish between two stations broadcasting on frequencies that are close together is referred to as Selectivity.

Multipath Interference

If you live in a valley or an urban area with tall buildings, you may experience multipath interference. The same signal may be reaching you directly from a station transmitter as well as bounced off a hill or building. Since the signals don't reach the antenna at the same time, you will experience harsh noise distortion. If receiving a stereo broadcast, the stereo indicator will flash repeatedly as your radio can't lock onto a stable signal.

Antenna Type

You might have several station transmitters in your local area, but they may not be in the same location. If you have a Directional Antenna, it may not receive signals from multiple transmitter locations. On the other hand, if you a have a Multi-directional or Omni-directional antenna, interference is more likely.

Number of Radios Using the Same Antenna

If you have more than one radio connected to the same antenna using a splitter, the signal will lose strength.

FM Tuner Sensitivity

Another factor affecting FM signal reception is sensitivity. Sensitivity is how well a radio tuner can receive radio signals of varying strength.

How to Fix Poor FM Radio Reception

Now that you know what causes poor FM radio reception, you can use one or more of the following options to boost or clean up your signal.

  1. Remove obstacles you have control of: Make sure your Antenna has as close to a line-of-sight "view" of the radio station transmitter as possible.

  2. Check and replace antenna connections: Make sure antenna and radio connections are secure. Check for brittleness and fraying. If you have an outdoor antenna, cables can get worn when exposed to the elements or chewed on by pets or wild animals.

    Make sure the antenna connection terminals aren't rusted. If possible, check the entire length of the cable for breaks or cuts. If worn, replace with new cables, preferably 18AWG RG6 cables as they are durable and you won't have any bandwidth issues.

    Cable prices vary depending on brand and length, starting at just a few dollars for a three-or-six foot length.

    FM Antenna Connection with RF Coaxial Cable
    Onkyo and RCA
  3. Run a frequency scan: If you have a stereo or home theater receiver, after checking antenna placement and connections, run a new frequency or tuning scan (if this feature is provided). As the scan proceeds, it will stop at every station that it receives – just press scan or tuning to continue to the scan. This process also allows you to mark your favorite stations via presets, so you can access them directly instead of manually tuning them in each time. Most stereo or home theater receivers provide 15 or more presets for FM stations

  4. Switch from stereo to mono: FM Radio stations often transmit both Mono and Stereo signals. Although it is desirable to listen to music in stereo, FM stereo signals are a lot weaker than mono signals. Depending on the station's transmission power and distance, you may be able to receive a stable mono signal, but the stereo signal may come in weak or not at all. If you have a weak, unlistenable stereo signal, switch your radio tuner to mono and see if that cleans up the signal.

  5. Use a rotor: If you have an outdoor antenna and receive radio signals from several directions adding a rotor to re-position your antenna when needed might help. However, this solution is expensive with prices for a complete kit ranging from about $100 to $200 or more.

    If you know the transmitter location of stations you what to receive, you can use a rotor to direct your antenna to the new station(s). Note the rotor position used for a receiving new station(s).

    Channel Master Antenna Rotor Kit
    Channel Master
  6. Move your antenna: If you have an indoor antenna, placing near, or on a window will avoid interference from materials used in wall construction. Also, place the antenna as high as possible. However, if the length of the cable that goes from the antenna to the radio tuner is too long the signal may be weakened.

    If you have an FM radio that doesn't provide an external antenna connection, place the radio near a window with an unobstructed view in the direction of the Station Transmitter.

  7. Use a signal amplifier: If you are having trouble receiving FM radio signals and you only have one "radio", you can place a signal amplifier (aka signal booster) between the antenna and your receiver or radio to boost the signal. Just connect the cable coming from the antenna to input of the amplifier and the output to your radio or receivers' antenna input. You need to plug the amplifier into power for it to work.

    Since FM signals occupy the frequency space between TV channels six and seven, you can use either a dedicated FM or a TV signal booster.

    Antennas Direct Two-Way TV/FM Signal Booster
    Photo from Amazon
  8. Use a distribution amplifier or use a separate antenna for each radio: If you have more than one radio, you should have a separate antenna for each as splitting the signal will decrease signal strength, especially if the cable distance from the signal splitter and one or more radios are long.

    A more practical solution is to use a Distribution Amplifier. Connect the main feed from the antenna to the input on the amplifier and then connect the outputs of the amplifier to your radio(s).

    Distribution amplifier prices vary depending on brand/model and the number of outputs provided.

    Channel Master RF Antenna Distribution Amplifier
    Channel Master

    You can use a TV distribution amplifier for FM. In fact, you can use any combination of outputs for either TV or FM distribution.

  9. Get a signal attenuator: If you are too close to a radio transmitter, causing overload, an attenuator can be used to reduce the strength of the signal. The most common type is a small inline unit that you insert between the antenna and your radio that has a fixed amount of reduced gain (3db, 6dB, 12dB). The hard part is figuring out how much gain reduction you need. An attenuator that has a continuous adjustment allows you to set the amount of attenuation (gain) that may be needed for different stations.

Attenuators are sometimes built into antennas and signal amplifiers. Also, the same attenuators used for VHF TV reception can be used for FM reception.

TV Signal Attenuators
Photo from Amazon

Get a New Antenna

Since FM radio frequencies are located between VHF TV channels six and seven you can use either a dedicated FM antenna or a VHF TV antenna to receive FM radio signals.

Switch from an indoor to an outdoor antenna as it can greatly improve FM reception.

Winegard Outdoor FM Antenna
Winegard

If you have a Directional antenna, try switching to an OmniDirectional antenna. This will provide better access to radio signals from different directions, but the sensitivity of the antenna is decreased for signals coming from a specific direction (the antenna is less focused). Where a directional antenna may receive a station farther away in a single direction, you may lose it if you switch to an omnidirectional one that works well for closer stations.

An omnidirectional antenna may be more prone to multi-path interference.

Antenna prices vary widely and can range from less than $10 for a basic indoor antenna to over one hundred dollars for a long-range outdoor model.

Don't assume that the antenna range listed or advertised for your antenna is accurate. Ratings may be based on optimum conditions.

Consider Cable FM Service

If you are a cable TV subscriber, most cable services include FM radio stations as part of their channel offerings. If you are having problems using an FM antenna, you may be able to access radio stations from your cable box.

If you aren't sure if your cable service provides this option, contact their customer service department.

If available, there are two ways to set it up:

  1. If your cable box is connected to your TV via HDMI, use the RF output connection to connect your box to your FM radio, stereo, or home theater receiver for receiving radio stations.
  2. If your cable is connected to your TV via RF connection, split the RF cable coming out of your cable box and send one feed to your TV the other to the FM antenna connection on your radio, stereo, or home theater receiver's FM antenna connection.

In addition to local FM stations, your cable service may also provide distant and/or cable-only radio stations.