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Just What Does A TV Antenna Pick Up?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 by | Filed Under: TV Tech

The times they are a’ changing.  And nowhere is that more evident that when you look at how people consume media these days. When I was a kid back in the early 1970s, TV came via an antenna and, if you were lucky, you might get 3 channels.  These days things are very different. That was made clear to me recently by a lot of questions about what you can pick up with a TV antenna. Folks wanted to know if you could get cable channels or services like Netflix.

So I thought it was a good time to do a basic antenna refresher course. A TV antenna can pick up local channels that are broadcast by stations in your area. Generally, these stations will be network affiliates (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, PBS) and in some places Univision and independent stations.

Since the digital transition in 2009, channels also have secondary channels (Channel 13 would have 13.1 and 13.2) where they broadcast additional channels. Sometimes these carry news, sometimes music, sometimes old TV shows. In my area, I’m able to get 13 channels total over the air. Folks that live in larger areas may get more. Those that live in rural areas may get fewer or even none.

Digital signals are an all-or-nothing deal. Either it’s beautiful or it’s not there at all. When the government forced all broadcasters to switch to digital frequencies many areas lost the ability to pick up over-the-air signals.  Stations that you might have previously picked up with a tabletop antenna may now require an antenna mounted on a 30′ pole.

TV Fool offers a great tool to see what signals you can receive from your house. Click here to try.

Here is the list of channels that should be available via antenna from my house.


The channels are color-coded. Green indicates that I should be able to pick them up with a set-top antenna, yellow means I would need an attic- mounted antenna, while red indicates the need for a roof or pole-mounted antenna.


You must have a digital receiver to pick up these channels. So you either need an HDTV or a digital converter box attached to your old TV. At the time of the digital transition, the government offered coupons for free converter boxes.  I suspect there are quite a few of those boxes still sitting unopened in closets. But if you don’t have one, you can buy one for around $40.  Though you won’t be able to view an HDTV picture unless you have an HDTV monitor.

~ Cynthia

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6 Responses to “Just What Does A TV Antenna Pick Up?”

  1. Tom O'Brien says:

    I receive over the air TV. Channel 13 is channel (13.1) & there is a channel 13.2 & channel 13.3.

  2. Joseph Mc Govern says:

    I would like to purchase a good antenna for my T V’s {1 to 3 }. I live in the Greenwich Ct 06830 area. My T V’s are cable ready. Would you recommend a good one to purchase. Thanks for any help you could give me, Joe

  3. Jerry says:

    I am having trouble getting in a local channel……Sometimes the signal is strong enough for a picture, and other times it goes in and out and then sometimes no picture at all. Do tree and or bushes have any effect? All the local channel come from a centralized location and have no problem with the network channels, except for Fox. Fox signal comes from the NW, the other networks come from the NE, of where I live.
    I purchased an omini directional antenna, and it sits outside, about twenty feet up in the air. Any ideas or help would be greatly appreciated…..
    Thank you

    • cynthia says:

      Leaves, branches and foliage do have an effect on signal. As could someone putting up a building between the broadcast location and your house.

  4. Bob Herbst says:

    Where can I get the available stations for Baker, MT 59313 ????
    Is there a website ???


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