How to Improve FM Antenna Reception

Fix interference on FM radio

Despite the growing popularity of internet radio, millions of people still listen to FM radio. Here's how to improve FM radio reception at home if you're getting a lot of static or interference when you try to tune in to your favorite stations.

Tips in this article apply to portable FM radios and home stereo systems. There are also things you can try to improve the radio reception in your car.

Causes of Poor FM Radio Reception

There could be a few reasons why your radio reception is poor. The following factors play a role in how clearly the signal comes in:

  • Distance: You may be too far from a station transmitter to receive a good signal. If you're too close to a transmitter, the signal may overpower your radio.
  • 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 solar panels limit the effectiveness of indoor antennas. Since FM radio transmissions require line-of-sight reception, the curvature of the Earth can also block reception at very long distances.
  • Moving or intermittent obstacles: Interference from certain types of electrical equipment, cell towers, and airplanes can affect FM radio reception. Interference can also occur when station frequencies are too close together.
  • Multipath interference: If you live in a valley or an urban area with tall buildings, signals can bounce about and reach the antenna at different times, resulting in noise distortion.
  • Antenna type: If you have a directional antenna, it may not receive signals from multiple transmitter locations. On the other hand, if you have a multi-directional antenna, interference is more likely.
  • Shared antenna: If you have more than one radio connected to the same antenna via a splitter, the signal will lose strength.
  • FM tuner sensitivity: Sensitivity is how well a radio tuner can receive radio signals of varying strength.

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.

How to Fix Poor FM Radio Reception

Try these steps to improve your radio reception:

  1. Remove any obstacles you can. Make sure your antenna has as close to a line-of-sight view of the radio station transmitter as possible. Keep large objects out of the way to avoid blocking the signal.

  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, run a new frequency or tuning scan. As the scan proceeds, it will stop at every station that it receives. This process allows you to mark your favorite stations via presets.

  4. Switch from stereo to mono. FM Radio stations often transmit both mono and stereo signals. Although stereo signals sound better, they are weaker than mono signals. Depending on the station's transmission power and distance, you may be able to receive a stable mono signal, so switch your radio tuner to mono and see if that helps.

  5. Move your antenna: If you have an indoor antenna, place it near a window as high as possible to avoid interference from materials used in wall construction. Keep in mind that the signal may be weakened if the length of the cable that goes from the antenna to the radio tuner is too long.

    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.

  6. Use a signal amplifier: 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 the input of the amplifier. and then connect the output to your radio or receivers' antenna input. You need to plug in the amplifier for it to work.

    Antennas Direct Two-Way TV/FM Signal Booster
    Photo from Amazon

    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.

  7. 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. A more practical solution, however, 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 radios.

    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.

  8. Get a signal attenuator: If you are too close to a radio transmitter, an attenuator can be used to reduce the strength of the signal. The most common type is a small inline unit that goes between the antenna and your radio with a fixed amount of reduced gain (i.e. 3 dB, 6 dB, 12 dB). 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 gain that may be needed for different stations.

    TV Signal Attenuators
    Photo from Amazon

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

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

    Channel Master Antenna Rotor Kit
    Channel Master
  10. Get a new antenna. Switching from an indoor to an outdoor antenna can greatly improve FM reception. If you have a directional antenna, try switching to an omnidirectional antenna, or vice versa. Directional antennas can pick up stations from farther away, but omnidirectional antennas work well for closer stations.

    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

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 available, there are two ways to set it up:

  • If your cable box is connected to your TV via HDMI, use the RF output to connect your box to your FM radio, stereo, or home theater receiver.
  • If your cable is connected to your TV via RF connection, split the RF cable coming out of your cable box, sending one feed to your TV the other to your radio, stereo, or home theater receiver.