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How to Improve Radio Reception at home & in Cars?

improve Radio Reception
Tips to improve Radio Reception

What to do to improve radio reception?

Here is a quick list of things you can do to improve radio reception at your home, worksite, school or inside a car:

  1. Use a quarter-length antenna (32 inches) for your car. The longer, the better!
  2. Change the position of the antenna. Keep it away from the engine compartment.
  3. Use a signal booster or a pre-amplifier.
  4. Use diversity tuning.
  5. Ensure that the antenna mast is extended.
  6. Check antenna connections.
  7. Replace the old broken, rusted, or corroded antenna with a new one.
  8. Preplace the head unit.
  9. Try using a dipole antenna (the T antenna) at home.
  10. Change the antenna location at home.
  11. Turn off as many nearby electrical devices as possible.
  12. Try out rabbit ears – the “Good Ol’ Fashioned” TV antennas.

Soft static, loud pops, hissing buzzes – these interferences are frustrating. Why do they happen? Why are the radio receptions often so bad? What can you do to improve the radio reception at home and in cars? This blurb will answer all your questions. Patience is a virtue.

What Causes Bad Radio Reception?

Many factors contribute to bad radio reception. Tall buildings to obstructive geographic terrains, from myriads of electrical devices to solar flares and sheer ignorance of the radio user – there are many reasons for bad reception.

Of course, there are things like tall buildings, geographic terrains, solar flares, etc. that you just cannot control. That doesn’t mean you cannot do anything. A few tricks might help you to improve the radio reception.

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What are those tricks? Keep reading.

15 ways to Improve Radio Reception at Home

There are a set of things that you can try to improve radio reception at home. Some of them are too simple, while others will require you to do some hard work. But eventually, it will be worth the time and effort.

Here are a few things that you can try:

1. Switching to FM mono

Most of the radios today will not have this feature, but if you are lucky, this function may be present. If it is present, there will be an FM switch button.

Most of the radios in the world today use FM stereo as the standard option. However, there is FM mono, one press of the switch will help. Look for the FM/FM stereo switch. It may have another name as well.

In general, when you switch from FM mono to FM stereo, the noise/signal ratio degrades. This means that stereo has a bad signal quality. Switching to mono will mean that the noise/signal ratio will improve, improving the radio reception.

No wonder, people from the late 60s say that radio reception was far better back then. That’s true! The stereo was invented back in the late ’60s.

2. Changing position may help

The very nature of radio signals is such that there will be some sweet spots where reception is fantastic, while there will be spots where the reception will be awful. This means that the same room may have sweet spots and bad spots.

Try moving the radio around in the room, or take it to other rooms. Both steel and concrete can impact radio reception noticeably. So, it is better that you take the radio as high as possible so that there is the least amount of obstruction.

In case you have an outdoor antenna, it is better that you have it on the roof if that is where the antenna is supposed to be in the first place.

3. Turn off electrical devices

Electrical devices lead to a lot of interference with radio signals. Some 20+ years ago, there weren’t many electrical devices around. This allowed better reception even with FM stereo.

Today the story is different. Things like light dimmer switches, DVD players, VCRs, CD players, fluorescent and halogen lamps, microwaves, ovens, TV, computer monitors, cable boxes, etc. all interfere with radio signals.

It may not be possible to turn off all of them, but do turn off as many of them as possible. If turning off is not a possibility, take your radio as far as possible from those electrical devices.

4. Try several indoor antennas

You may notice that the reception of your radio improves the moment you get close to your radio or the moment you touch your radio. This means one thing – your antenna doesn’t have the necessary power to amplify the signal. A few tricks that you can try in a situation like this are listed below:

  • If there is a built-in antenna, extend it out completely.
  • You may try out a UHF antenna. It will if at all, give a very slight improvement. Sometimes, it may even worsen the signal.
  • Try out the good old rabbit ears. Though these are meant for TVs, they do have VFH tuning that is necessary for radios. To use rabbit ears, you will have to remove the FM blockers from the antenna. These are, very often, built into the rabbit ear antennas. In most cases, rabbit ears work really well.
  • Try out the cheaper antenna wire option. It can work. However, if your radio isn’t of high quality, and if you live in a place with bad radio reception, it will not help.

If you choose to use a VHF antenna, you will most likely need an adapter to plug it into your radio. In case your radio already has a TV antenna input, you will not need the adapter.

5. Go for an outdoor antenna

Trying an outdoor antenna may be a good solution. The outdoor antenna is expensive. If you are ready to spend money, going for one will be a wise option. However, you need to remember the following:

  • You should place the antenna as high as possible. Preferably, it should be on the roof. If the roof isn’t an option, it should be in the attic or somewhere outside with the least amount of interference.
  • You need to adjust the outdoor antenna properly. Failing to do so will worsen your radio reception.
  • You should get an omnidirectional radio if you want to capture radio signals from all directions.
  • If you have a radio rotator, mounting a directional antenna on that radio will also allow you to get signals from all directions.
  • You may even repurpose a TV antenna to make it work as a radio antenna. If you are using a TV antenna, you may have to use a radio splitter.

Remember, outdoor antennas are so effective and powerful that radio stations often make use of them for testing their signal strength.

6. A T-shaped antenna can help

Also called a dipole antenna, the T-shaped antenna or the T antenna has two branches capable of detecting signals in two places. It is a better setup compared to the cheap radio antennas, but the results are not very remarkable.

It is better that you place the antenna on a window, and keep the two branches perpendicular to each other.

Improve Radio Reception in Car

When it is a car, you cannot place an antenna very high. It has to be attached to your car or your truck. This is a major reason why the reception quality will not be that great. You can, however, do a few things.

Here is what you can do:

7. The antenna should be at least 26 inches long

The difference in antenna length that you see for your walkie-talkie or car radio is intentional. The antennas are designed to pick up wavelengths sent out by radios and convert them into sound.

The golden rule of thumb is that the longer the antenna, the more signals it picks up. In the case of trucks or cars, the ideal antenna length to pick up wavelengths from radio stations is 32 inches. Antennas of such length are often known as a quarter-length antenna.

There is no such thing called too long. There will, however, be a problem, if the antenna is too short. Your antenna should, under no circumstances, be shorter than 26 inches.

8. Check the antenna mast and ensure it is not retracted

This sounds very basic, right? True! Why would you deliberately shove down the antenna? The thing is, you may not! Someone else may. For instance, the car wash attendant may do that to prevent it from breaking during the wash. Someone on the other side may just not remember to pull it back out.

It happens, and trust me, a situation like this is more common than you think. This is especially true in the case of manual antennas. In the case of an electric antenna, the moment you turn on the radio, it will extend out unless the motor is broken.

Whether it is a manual antenna or an electric one, it really doesn’t matter. If they are tucked in for whatever reason, you will not get a good reception. In the case of an electric antenna, a broken motor is not noticeable unless you go looking for it.

9.Check the connection b/w Radio and Antenna

Another one of the commonest reasons for poor reception is a poor connection between the antenna and the radio. The antenna wire poorly seated on the head unit is often the main culprit, but you cannot ignore corroded, worn out, or loose connections.

There is an easy way to find out whether the connection is loose or not. Check whether the wire is properly connected to the head unit or not. Then, try to tune into a station and slightly wiggle the antenna back and forth.

If the antenna connection is good, there will be no noticeable change. If the connection is bad, the tuner will drop and then reacquire the signal. In such a case, tighten the connection between the antenna and then go ahead and check the grounds.

10. Check the antenna positioning

If the antenna is located close to the engine compartment, the electrical devices that keep buzzing right underneath the hood will keep interfering with the radio wavelengths that your antenna tries picking up.

If the antenna picks up the interference (which it does), you get to hear pops, buzzes, hisses, and soft static. That’s the reason why newer cars often place the antenna on the fender close to the trunk.

If your antenna is located close to the engine compartment, it will be worth the effort to try and move it towards the back. This will help to improve the reception. However, do remember that once you successfully move it, ground the wire of the antenna. Use a grounding wire of a high-quality audio system.

Connect the wire to the frame of the car or the truck. If you cannot connect it to frame, make sure that you are connecting it to that part of the metal chassis that has no paint on it.

11. Use a signal booster

Never think that a signal booster will resolve all the issues. It can help to boost a signal. That means you need to receive a signal from a radio station. If the signal is weak, the booster can help.

However, if you are surrounded by hills and tall buildings, a signal booster might not be of great help.

12. Resort to diversity tuning

You may even go for diversity tuning. It is something you see satellite radios. Diversity tuning will capture signals from two antennas – one on the front and one on the back of your vehicle, and will rapidly jump back and forth between the antennas to capture the best possible signal.

Unfortunately, while diversity tuning may help you a bit, there will be a lot of interference when you are around large buildings.

13. Check the antenna mounting hardware

Many people simply don’t focus on mast or the mounting hardware on which the antenna is mounted. If it is broken, corroded, or rusted, it will prevent a solid connection between the antenna and the head unit. Sometimes, simply replacing the mast can do the trick and improve the reception.

14. Switch from grid-style to mast or whip antenna

If you have a grid-style antenna mounted on the rear window of your car, it may look great. It will stay safe during a car wash. Also, a vandal may not harm it easily.

While grid-style antennas may have an aesthetic appeal, they are often plagued with the problem of poor reception, especially in hilly areas and in big cities. Switching to a mast or whip antenna may be the remedy you need.

15. A new head unit may give the solution

If none of the remedies above work out for you, it may be time to change the head unit and get a better one. It is needless to say that the radio tuners in the head units of the cars are way more advanced compared to the average clock radio you have at home.

These made-for-car radio head units are known for a lot of exceptions and edge cases. Even a cheap head unit has a lot more going on under the hood when compared to your home radio.

But you need to remember that not all head units are equal. There are cheaper ones, and then there are expensive and way better options. A high-quality head unit may be the panacea for the ailment that bothers you.

That’s it! If you have a few more bright ideas, feel free to share!

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